China's Rapid Military Evolution 'Shocking,' Says Senior NATO Officer

A senior NATO officer has warned of China's "shocking" military development and growing diplomatic clout, as the trans-Atlantic alliance toughens its stance on Beijing.

Air Chief MarshalSir Stuart Peach, who is stepping down on Friday after three years as chair of NATO's military committee, told the Financial Times that the alliance's 30 member states needed to do more to decide what China's military ambitions might mean for them.

The FT interview, published on Friday, comes as tensions simmer between China and the West, against the backdrop of a Washington-Beijing trade war, increased military aggression and a string of cyberespionage attacks.

Peach said: "It is quite shocking how quickly China has built ships, how much China has modernised its air force, how much it has invested in cyber and other forms of information management, not least facial recognition.

"I think it's very important to keep an eye on that. What do you do if you're a leader in China with a modernised powerful large force? You deploy it, you move it around."

At their summit in Brussels on June 14, NATO leaders accused China of going against the international order, claiming Beijing was spreading disinformation, expanding its nuclear arsenal and working with Russia.

A few days earlier, President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders had accused China of human rights abuses, citing the attacks on democracy in Hong Kong, the growing influence over Taiwan and Beijing's treatment of the Uyghur Muslims.

A Chinese defense official hit back on Thursday, stating that his country's growth "cannot be stopped by anyone."

Peach, who was previously chief of the British military's defence staff, also pointed to Beijing's increasing diplomatic presence, including its "enormous" embassy in Brussels, home to NATO and the European Union.

"You have these large embassy footprints now with very large defence sections, often populated by general officers. And then you simply observe, as I would observe after nearly 50 years of service, what's it all for?" he told the FT.

Peach said Beijing's joint operations with Moscow had evolved from "relatively minor" to "major exercises and training opportunities" in recent years.

He rejected the idea that the two countries were heading toward a strategic partnership, however, citing the Arctic region, where he could not see "long-term harmony" between Beijing and Moscow.

Melting of Arctic ice will open up a northern sea route, speeding China's maritime passage to Europe, increasing its trade activity and opening up access to untapped natural energy and mineral resources. Peach warned that this could increase competition with Russia.

Tensions have been growing in recent weeks between Washington and Beijing. On Wednesday, the Chinese military protested the presence of a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Taiwan Strait. It was the sixth time an American warship had sailed through the waters since Biden took office.

Earlier in June, China sent 28 warplanes into Taiwan's air defense identification zone—its largest recent show of force in the region.

Stuart Peach at EU Military Committee Meeting
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach attends an EU defense meeting on May 19 in Brussels. In an interview published on the day he steps down as chair of NATO's Military Committee, he has warned against China's military development. OM/EU Pool/Getty