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Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that the military alliance must "engage politically" with China despite its growing assertiveness, telling Politico's "Global Insider" podcast: "We don't regard China as an adversary or an enemy."

Why it matters: NATO, like the U.S., has been careful about the language it uses to describe a rising China — stressing the need for cooperation while acknowledging that Beijing's global influence, technological prowess and military activity in the South China Sea pose real security challenges.

  • NATO, which was founded in 1949 to confront the Soviet Union, formally addressed the threat posed by China's military ambitions for the first time in a leaders' communique in July.
  • The move drew pushback at the time from French President Emmanuel Macron, who told reporters that "in my book, China isn’t part of the Atlantic geography, or maybe my map has a problem."

What they're saying: Stoltenberg confirmed that NATO is "absolutely" seeking an arms control treaty with China, calling Beijing "a global power" that must take on "global responsibilities."

  • Like President Biden, Stoltenberg also stressed the importance of engaging with China on climate change.
  • But he acknowledged the reality that China now has the world's second-largest defense budget, largest navy and is investing heavily in modern weapons technologies. "All of this matters for our security. And therefore NATO has to respond to that," Stoltenberg said.
  • "NATO is the most successful alliance in history because we have been able to change when the world is changing, constantly adapting. And that's exactly what we do now," he added.

Driving the news: Stoltenberg was pressed on France's furious reaction to the new Indo-Pacific security partnership between the U.S., U.K. and Australia, which cost the French a multibillion-dollar submarine contract.

  • "I understand that France is disappointed. At the same time, all NATO allies agreed as late as June this year that we need to work more closely with what we call the Asia-Pacific partners," Stoltenberg said.
  • The former Norwegian prime minister dismissed the idea — pushed aggressively by Macron, especially in the wake of the submarine fallout — that Europe should develop its own defense capabilities outside of NATO.
  • "I welcome EU efforts on the defense. But my message and something I often discuss with the European political leaders is that EU cannot be an alternative, cannot replace, NATO. EU cannot defend Europe," he said. "Just look at the numbers: 80% of NATO's defense expenditure comes from non-EU allies."

Go deeper: China's record military flybys test Biden on Taiwan

Go deeper

Jan 13, 2022 - World

Russian officials to brief Putin on "very disappointing" security talks

Putin with Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu. Photo: Russian Defence Ministry\TASS via Getty Images

Russian diplomats panned this week's security talks with the U.S., NATO and other European countries after the final set of negotiations on Thursday, telling reporters that Vladimir Putin will be briefed on the "really disappointing" state of affairs before deciding "next steps."

Why it matters: The diplomats wouldn't say what Russia would do if NATO declined to provide legal guarantees that it will not expand east or admit Ukraine as a member. But officials have warned all week that Russia will not hesitate to "eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security" if diplomacy fails.

Jan 12, 2022 - World

China hosts string of Gulf officials in sign of growing influence

Wang Yi (right) greets Faisal bin Farhan on Jan. 10. Photo: Ji Chunpeng/Xinhua via Getty

The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain and the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council are all visiting China this week for talks on boosting trade and security cooperation.

Why it matters: The flurry of visits by Gulf officials is part of China’s push for deeper involvement in the Middle East. For Beijing, the Gulf in particular is key to its energy supply and increasingly to its geopolitical influence.

Nov 16, 2021 - World

Olympics sponsors caught between U.S. and China

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Companies that do business in China — especially Olympics sponsors — are concerned Beijing will use the 2022 Winter Games as a loyalty test.

Why it matters: China's leaders have become adept at silencing criticism from U.S. companies that might otherwise condemn the country's human rights record — and the Chinese government has been able to host prestigious global events like the Olympics while committing rights violations with impunity.