Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe has embarked on a visit to four European countries to boost cooperation with their militaries. His visit comes amid reports of some NATO members planning to deploy warships in the highly-contested South China Sea region.
The South China Sea, which encompasses 3.6 million sq km stretching from China in the north and Indonesia in the south, is considered the newest battleground for power in the Indo-Pacific region.
A major international trade route, the South China Sea is believed to have huge oil and natural gas reserves under its seabed.
China claims the entire region as part of its territory although a 2016 international arbitration ruling invalidated such ‘expansionist’ claims.
Besides, there has been a growing suspicion among Western powers that China wants to build the world’s largest Navy, with President Xi Jinping recently saying, “The task of building a powerful navy has never been as urgent as it is today.”
According to reports, some NATO members, including France, Germany, and the UK have even announced plans of sending warships to the South China Sea as part of ‘freedom of navigation’ operations, which are essentially aimed at countering Beijing’s expansionist moves.
Amid all this, the Chinese defense minister is visiting four European countries to enhance military cooperation with them.
“Wei is on a visit to Hungary, Serbia, Greece, and North Macedonia from Wednesday to March 31 on the invitation of the four countries’ defense ministers,” said Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang, a spokesperson at China’s Ministry of National Defense.
“The visit will boost China’s traditional friendship and pragmatic cooperation with these countries’ defense authorities and militaries, pushing for the healthy and stable development of military-to-military relations.”
According to the Chinese Defence Ministry, Wei will first visit Hungary, before embarking on trips to Greece, North Macedonia, and Serbia.
Military analysts also say that some of Wei’s destinations are also NATO member countries.
“NATO is not of one mind on China, with many looking for cooperation instead of confrontation,” state-owned Global Times said quoting analysts.
The Chinese analysts also claim that Beijing has a high level of potential regarding military cooperation with European countries, but “it will also respond to provocative moves from others”.