As the saying goes, 'if you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail'. The West has the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato), a self-declared "defensive" military alliance, so any country that refuses its dictates, must, by definition, be an offensive military threat.
That is part of the reason why Nato issued a new "strategic concept" document last week at its summit in Madrid, declaring for the first time, that China poses a "systemic challenge" to the alliance, alongside a primary "threat" from Russia.
Beijing views this new designation as a decisive step by Nato on the path to pronouncing it a "threat" too - echoing the alliance's escalatory approach towards Moscow over the past decade. In its previous mission statement, issued in 2010, Nato advocated a true strategic partnership with Russia.
According to a report in the New York Times, China would have found itself openly classed as a "threat" last week had it not been for Germany and France. They insisted that the more hostile terminology be watered down so as to avoid harming their trade and technology links with China.
In response, Beijing accused Nato of "maliciously attacking and smearing" it, and warned that the alliance was "provoking confrontation". Not unreasonably, Beijing believes Nato has strayed well out of its sphere of supposed "defensive" interest - the North Atlantic.
Nato was founded in the wake of the Second World War expressly as a bulwark against Soviet expansion into Western Europe. The ensuing Cold War was primarily a territorial and ideological battle for the future of Europe, with the ever-present mutual threat of nuclear annihilation.
So how, Beijing might justifiably wonder, does China - on the other side of the globe - fit into Nato's historic "defensive" mission? How are Chinese troops or missiles now threatening Europe, or the US in ways they weren't before? How are Americans or Europeans suddenly under threat of military conquest from China?Creating enemies
The current Nato logic reads something like this: Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February is proof that the Kremlin has ambitions to recreate its former Soviet empire in Europe. China is growing its military power and has similar imperial designs towards the rival, breakaway state of Taiwan, as well as western Pacific islands. And because Beijing and Moscow are strengthening their strategic ties in the face of western opposition, Nato has to presume that their shared goal is to bring western civilisation crashing down.
Or as last week's Nato mission statement proclaimed: "The deepening strategic partnership between the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutually reinforcing attempts to undercut the rules-based international order run counter to our values and interests."
But if anyone is subverting the "rules-based international order", a standard the West regularly invokes, but never defines, it looks to be Nato itself - or the US as the hand that wields the Nato hammer.
That is certainly the way it looks to Beijing. In its response, China argued: "Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, Nato has not yet abandoned its thinking and practice of 'creating enemies'. It is Nato that is creating problems around the world."
China has a point. A problem with bureaucracies - and Nato is the world's largest military bureaucracy - is that they quickly develop an overriding institutional commitment to ensuring their permanent existence, if not expansion. Bureaucracies naturally become powerful lobbies for their own self-preservation, even when they have outlived their usefulness.
If there is no threat to "defend" against, then a threat must be manufactured. That can mean one of two things: either inventing an imaginary threat, or provoking the very threat the bureaucracy was designed to avert or thwart. Signs are that Nato - now embracing 30 countries - is doing both.
Remember that Nato should have dissolved itself after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. But three decades later, it is bigger, and more resource-hungry than ever.
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