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China ‘rapidly expands’ its nuclear arsenal

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China is “rapidly expanding” its nuclear arsenal, NATO warned as it accused Beijing and Moscow of threatening to destabilise world peace.

In a landmark move, NATO for the first time in its guiding blueprint said China’s might challenged the alliance, and Beijing’s closer ties to Moscow went against Western interests.

In a growing sign that the West is running out of patience with President Xi Jinping and his close relationship with Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin, a statement put out by NATO leaders accused China of “challenging our interests, security and values”.

In a dramatic development, the alliance’s leaders said China was targeting members with its “malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric” - and said Beijing had increased its nuclear weapons capacity.

“The PRC (People’s Republic of China) is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal and is developing increasingly sophisticated delivery systems, without increasing transparency or engaging in good faith in arms control or risk reduction,” NATO leaders added.

“The PRC employs a broad range of political, economic and military tools to increase its global footprint and project power, while remaining opaque about its strategy, intentions and military build-up.

“The PRC’s malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target Allies and harm Alliance security.

“The PRC seeks to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains.”

China’s ambition for world domination

Anthony Albanese said China was trying to become “the most powerful nation in the world”.

The Australian Prime Minister warned that the West should be concerned by Beijing and Moscow’s growing closeness.

“Just as Russia seeks to recreate a Russian or Soviet empire, the Chinese Government is seeking friends, whether it be … through economic support to build up alliances to undermine what has historically been the Western alliance in places like the Indo Pacific,” Mr Albanese said.

This was a veiled comment about China’s recently-signed pact with the Solomon Islands, which the US and Australia fear could lead to Beijing establishing a military base in the Pacific - just 3000 kilometres from Australian shores.

The US has pushed for the alliance to pay greater attention to China, despite reluctance from some allies to switch attention away from focusing on Europe.

In a sign of the increasing concerns about China, the leaders from Asian partners Japan and South Korea were attending a NATO summit for the first time.

‘Send weapons to Taiwan’

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss this week called for Britain to send weapons to Taiwan to help defend it against a possible Chinese invasion.

Fears are growing in the West that Beijing is mulling a full-blown invasion of the disputed island, which China claims is part of its territory.

Military experts in the US and UK fear that President Xi could feel galvanised by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While Putin has lost several thousand men and the war has dragged on far more than he initially thought it would, NATO has taken little direct action to stop Russia in its tracks - and has deliberately avoided any direct conflict between its military and that of Russia.

And this has led Ms Truss to make a call to arms over Taiwan.

“There is always a tendency, and we’ve seen this prior to the Ukraine war, of wishful thinking, to hope more bad things won’t happen and to wait until it is too late,” she told the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We should have done things earlier, we should have been supplying defensive weapons into Ukraine earlier.

“We need to learn that lesson for Taiwan.

Every piece of equipment we have sent takes months of training, so the sooner we do it the better.”

It wasn’t the only sabre rattling to come out of the UK.

In a speech on Tuesday, UK army chief General Sir Patrick Sanders declared the UK was facing its “1937 moment” and must prepare for the worst to fight the “brutal aggression” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

General Sanders was referring to the Allies’ appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the lead-up to World War Two.

“In all my years in uniform, I haven’t known such a clear threat to the principles of sovereignty and democracy, and the freedom to live without fear of violence, as the brutal aggression of president Putin and his expansionist ambitions,” he said.

“This is our 1937 moment.

We are not at war – but must act rapidly so that we aren’t drawn into one through a failure to contain territorial expansion.

“I will do everything in my power to ensure that the British Army plays its part in averting war.”

Putin’s ‘brutality’

Mr Albanese took aim at Putin as he told NATO leaders Australia was “not afraid to stand up” to tyrants both in Europe and closer to home.

The Prime Minister, who is attending the alliance’s annual summit in Madrid despite Australia not being a member of the bloc, branded Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “brutal, illegal and unjustified”, The Australian reported.

He accused Putin of leading an “authoritarian state seeking to impose its will by force” and said Australia would not stand by and allow Russia to destabilise peace.

“By supporting peace and sovereignty in Europe, we are underscoring our iron-clad commit­ment to these norms in our own region, the Indo-Pacific,” Mr ­Albanese said, referring to China’s recent moves to increase its presence in the Pacific.

“We recognise there is ­strategic competition in our region, and Australia is not afraid to stand up with all the countries of our ­region for an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

Under my government, it will be through Australia’s actions that you will see our resolve.”

NATO leaders also decried Russia’s brutal aggression in Ukraine and pledged more support for Kyiv as it faces the onslaught from Moscow.

“Russia’s appalling cruelty has caused immense human suffering and massive displacements, disproportionately affecting women and children” a declaration from a summit in Madrid said.

NATO leaders have funnelled billions of dollars of arms to Ukraine and faced appeals from President Volodymyr Zelensky for more artillery.

Alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg announced a new joint package of non-lethal support including secure communications equipment and anti-drone systems.

The assistance will also extend to training Ukrainian forces to pivot to more modern Western weapons over the longer term.

“Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes,” Stoltenberg said.

Biden sends in reinforcements

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced US reinforcements of NATO forces in Europe, saying the alliance is needed more today “than it ever has been”.

NATO will be “strengthened in all directions across every domain - land, air and sea,” he said at a summit of the transatlantic alliance being held in Madrid.

Biden, who was meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, said the extra forces included:

– Boosting the fleet of US naval destroyers from four to six in Rota, Spain.

– A permanent headquarters in Poland of the 5th Army Corps.

– An “additional rotational brigade” in Romania, consisting of “3,000 fighters and another 2,000 personnel combat team.”

– Enhanced rotational deployments in the Baltic countries.

“Together with our allies we’re going to make sure that NATO is ready to meet the threats from all directions across every domain,” Biden said.

“In a moment where (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has shattered peace in Europe and attacked the very, very tenets of rule-based order, the United States and our allies, we’re going to step up,” he said.

“We’re stepping up, proving that NATO is more needed now than it ever has been and it’s important as it ever has been.”

Referring to NATO unity on accepting the applications of previously neutral Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, Biden said Putin’s strategy in invading Ukraine had backfired.

“That’s exactly what he didn’t want but exactly what needs to be done to guarantee security for Europe,” Biden said.

Stoltenberg commented that the expansion of NATO was “the opposite” of what Putin hoped for.

Finland and Sweden were invited to join the alliance at the summit after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday lifted his opposition following crunch talks with the leaders of the two Nordic countries in Madrid.

Erdogan had stubbornly refused to back the applications from the Nordic pair - lodged in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine - despite pressure for a change of course from his NATO allies.

But Erdogan’s office said it had agreed to support them as Ankara had “got what it wanted”.

Ankara had accused Finland, and especially Sweden, of offering a safe haven to Kurdish militants who have been waging decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

US President Joe Biden congratulated Turkey, Finland and Sweden on reaching an agreement.

“As we begin this historic NATO summit in Madrid, our alliance is stronger, more united and more resolute than ever,” he said in a statement.

But it will still take months for Finland and Sweden to officially join NATO, as their entry needs to be ratified by the parliaments of the 30 member states.

NATO allies announced last week they would boost high readiness forces to “well over 300,000” troops as they strengthen their defences in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Moscow reacted with fury.

“We consider the expansion of the North Atlantic alliance to be a purely destabilising factor in international affairs.

It does not add security either to those who are expanding it, those joining it, or to other countries that perceive the alliance as a threat,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

Horrors continue in Ukraine

The summit comes as war rages across Ukraine, particularly in the eastern Donbas region where Moscow has been focusing its offensive after failing to capture Kyiv in the conflict’s early days.

There was global outrage Monday after a missile strike on a shopping mall in the central city of Kremenchuk killed at least 18 people and injured dozens.

Russia claims its missile salvo was aimed at an arms depot.

But AFP talked to civilians in Kremenchuk, and none of them knew of any weapons store in the neighbourhood.

“Everything burned, really everything, like a spark to a touchpaper.

I heard people screaming.

It was horror,” witness Polina Puchintseva said.

All that was left of the mall was charred debris, chunks of blackened walls and lettering from a smashed storefront.

“Only total insane terrorists, who should have no place on Earth, can strike missiles at civilian objects,” said Zelensky on his social media channels.

“Russia must be recognised as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The world can and therefore must stop Russian terror,” he added.

Addressing the UN Security Council Tuesday, Zelensky called for the United Nations to visit the site so they can independently assess whether the destruction was caused by a Russian missile strike.

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