China is accusing the United States of instigating the war in Ukraine and says NATO should have been disbanded following the break-up of the Soviet Union.
“As the culprit and leading instigator of the Ukraine crisis, the U.S. has led NATO to engage in five rounds of eastward expansion in the last two decades after 1999,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing Friday.
“The number of NATO members increased from 16 to 30, and they have moved eastward more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) to somewhere near the Russian border, pushing Russia to the wall step by step,” Zhao said.
While China says it is not taking sides in the conflict, it has declared a “no limits” partnership with Moscow, has refused to condemn the invasion, opposes sanctions on Russia and routinely amplifies Russian disinformation about the conflict, including not referring to it as an invasion or a war in keeping with Russian practice.
Zhao’s comments came as Chinese and European Union leaders were meeting virtually for a summit at which Ukraine was expected to dominate discussions. EU officials say they are looking for a commitment from China not to undermine sanctions and assist in efforts to halt the fighting.
When Russian armed forces launched an unprovoked assault on Ukraine last month, Beijing appeared to side with Moscow, accusing the United States and its NATO allies of inviting conflict by allowing their security bloc to expand eastward.
Now, as China faces pressure from the West to condemn the Russian invasion, it's ramping up similar rhetoric to talk about America's footprint in Asia.
In recent days, senior Chinese Foreign Ministry officials and influential Communist Party publications have accused the US of seeking to build a NATO-like bloc in the Indo-Pacific, with one official warning of "unimaginable" consequences if it does.
Earlier, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday accused China of giving political backing to Russia as it invades Ukraine by "spreading blatant lies", and warned Beijing against providing material support to Moscow's war effort.
China must "live up to its responsibilities as a member of the UN Security Council, refrain from supporting Russia's war effort, and join the rest of the world in calling for an immediate, peaceful end to this war," he said.
But Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that "accusing China of spreading false information about Ukraine is itself spreading disinformation".
"China's position is consistent with the wishes of most countries ... any unwarranted accusations and suspicions against China will be defeated," he said at a routine briefing Thursday.
"We have always maintained that Ukraine should become a bridge between the East and West, rather than be in the frontline in a game between great powers."
China's criticism of NATO follows attempts to portray itself as a neutral actor in the Ukraine crisis, refusing to denounce Russia's attacks on civilians, while stressing its humanitarian aid to Ukraine and denying it considered providing military support to Moscow.
However, China's bid to draw parallels between the US strategy in the Indo-Pacific and NATO's "eastward expansion" in Europe closely echoes talking points from Moscow, raising serious doubts as to Beijing's supposed neutrality.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin has repeatedly attempted to use concerns over NATO to justify his brutal invasion of Ukraine. Now, experts say China is seeking to use the current crisis in Ukraine to not only amplify its portrayal of the US as an alleged instigator of conflict, whether in Europe or in Asia, but to warn of the consequences if the US and countries in the region align against China.