NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Saturday that China's increasing influence had created a "fundamental shift in the global balance of power" that should not be overlooked.
In an interview with Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper, that was released in advance, the Norwegian official said that Beijing had the second-largest defense budget in the world after the United States, and was investing heavily in nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that could reach Europe.
"One thing is clear: China is coming ever closer to Europe's doorstep," he said. "NATO allies must face this challenge together."
New opportunities, new challenges
NATO's mission has expanded since its creation in 1949 as a counterweight to the power of the Soviet Union. Its security remit is limited to North America and Europe, but the military alliance has also acknowledged that China's rise posed new challenges.
Stoltenberg stressed that no member country was "directly" threatened by the Asian powerhouse, but he did flag several concerns, which he said required a strong NATO response.
He noted Beijing was investing heavily in European infrastructure and cyberspace, as well as expanding its presence in Africa, the Arctic and the Mediterranean.
China has also increasingly sought to boost its claims over parts of the South China Sea, in some cases by hindering ships traveling there in international waters.
Stoltenberg said he found developments in the sea worrying, calling on Beijing to respect international shipping rules, but added that there was no reason to send NATO troops to the region.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said earlier this week that China does not pose a threat to any country. "We hope that NATO can continue to hold a correct opinion about us and view our development rationally," she said.
nm/mm (dpa, AFP, Reuters)