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China on NATO's doorstep as Xi Jinping courts key allies ahead of major summit


Chinese President Xi Jinping is trying to garner the support of his allies ahead of the NATO summit in Washington, due to begin today.

China will conduct joint military exercises over the next few days with Belarus – a prominent ally of Russia – and has reached out to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – two prominent anti-NATO figureheads.

The joint military exercises, mixed-team training exercises, will take place in Brest – right on the border with NATO ally Poland, raising concerns about the proximity to the alliance.

Chinese state media Xinhua said it “aims to enhance the training levels and coordination capabilities of the participating troops, as well as deepen practical cooperation between the armies of the two countries”.

Former Belarusian diplomat Pavel Slunkin said this could be an escalation in the relationship between Belarus and China as it points to a step away from the typical exercises with Russia or its Collective Security Treaty Organization.

He told China Watcher: “They did trainings before but I don’t recall any similar joint exercises in Belarus on this scale.”

The relationship between China and Belarus is already being monitored by NATO, with an official maintaining that they “remain vigilant” in the face of their deepening alliance.

The official anonymously told POLITICO: “NATO routinely tracks all military manoeuvres near its borders. The China/Belarus exercise near Poland illustrates the growing relationship between authoritarian powers. We remain vigilant.”

In terms of China’s allyship with Turkey, Erdoğan has been vocal about his interest in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – a security forum led by China and Russia.

He told journalists at the annual meeting in Astana: “We want to further develop our relations with Russia and China within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. We believe they should accept us not just as a dialogue partner but as a member like the others.”

According to state-owned news agency Xinhua, Xi wants to “keep in close communication” with Turkey – which he called a like-minded partner.

He said: “China and Turkey share same or similar views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Ukraine crisis and other issues, and should keep in close communication.”

This comes ahead of the NATO summit in Washington, taking place from July 9 to 11, and the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warning of a pressing need to keep tabs on Asia.

He told CBS: “The war in Ukraine demonstrates how closely aligned Russia and China and North Korea and Iran are. China is the main enabler of Russia’s war aggression against Ukraine.

“They all want NATO, the United States to fail in Ukraine, and if Putin wins in Ukraine, it will not only embolden President Putin, it also would embolden President Xi.”

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