SINGAPORE — China put European patience to the test on Saturday, with a seasoned Chinese diplomat attributing Russia’s war on Ukraine to a failed security architecture in Europe.
It fell to Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren to challenge that very Chinese interpretation.
“I was actually a little bit surprised to hear it,” Ollongren told POLITICO in an interview moments after she made an impromptu rebuttal of ex-ambassador Cui Tiankai on a panel at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. “It’s very, very false.”
Cui, a former envoy to the U.S. and unofficially an adviser to the Chinese delegation at this top Asian security forum, told the event on Saturday that Europe had showed little success in ensuring the Continent’s security, and suggested that the other nations at the forum should take a lesson from China and Asia instead.
“We used to look to Europe, for their experience in regional integration. But nowadays, maybe people in Europe instead could look to us,” Cui told the gathering. “We don’t impose our ways on you, but maybe you can learn something useful from our experience, from our success,” he said.
“And our region also should learn something very important — from your lack of success. I don’t want to use the word ‘failure,’ [so] a lack of success,” said Cui, who sat next to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov on the panel.
“We will continue with our Asian ways of managing our security situation and managing all the issues,” Cui said. “We don’t need an Asian NATO. We’ll don’t want to see expansion of NATO’s role in our region.”
While the Ukrainian minister steered clear of criticizing Beijing — saying only that Ukraine needed to win the war, not negotiate — Ollongren hit back at Cui’s assertion.
“There was a suggestion by the ambassador that Europe has not succeeded in managing its security very well, because of the war in Ukraine. Of course, I understand there’s a war in Ukraine — but I think it’s not the result of mismanaging our security situation in Europe. It’s the result of not respecting the way we want to manage security in Europe,” the Dutch minister said.
“I think also, there is no lack of respect for China or lack of respect to the culture of China in Europe; we have very high respect for that,” she said.
Ollongren, whose country has taken an increasingly critical stance on China over ties with Russia and tech advancement in military fields, added after the panel that what Cui had presented was a “false perception of the situation.”
“You cannot blame Europe or European countries for Russia’s illegally invading Ukraine,” she said.
Ollongren added that since Cui is no longer an ambassador, she would wait for Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu to spell out the official position in his keynote address on Sunday.