NATO Secretary General discusses ‘issues of common concern’ with Chinese Foreign Minister

29 September 2021

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg held a virtual meeting on 27 September 2021 to discuss “issues of common concern”, which included the situation in Afghanistan and regional tensions.

According to a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry the next day, the discussions had been “positive and constructive”. Beijing also said the two officials agreed to “improve the quality of dialogue, and facilitate practical cooperation in the areas of counterterrorism, anti-piracy, cyberspace and international peacekeeping operations”.

Stoltenberg told China’s Foreign Minister that the alliance “went into Afghanistan to ensure the country did not serve again as a platform for terrorists,” according to NATO’s news release, and also stressed the importance of a “coordinated international approach, including with countries from the region, to hold the Taliban accountable for their commitments on countering terrorism and upholding human rights, not least the rights of women”.

Beijing has also called on the Taliban to uphold its pledge to restrain militants seeking independence for the traditionally Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang. Wang has urged the group to keep border crossings open, while offering $31 million in humanitarian assistance, along with 3 million doses of Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines.

While pledging cooperation with NATO, the Chinese statement indicates that Wang was critical of the dispatch of planes and ships from member states to areas near China’s borders, saying “the Asia-Pacific region does not need to establish new military blocs, and should no longer cause confrontation between major powers, let alone forming small cliques aimed at instigating a new Cold War”. "NATO should adhere to its original geographic positioning", Wang added.

Stoltenberg said the alliance “does not see China as an adversary, but called on China to uphold its international commitments and act responsibly in the international system”, the NATO news release said. He also raised NATO’s concerns over China’s “coercive policies, expanding nuclear arsenal and lack of transparency on its military modernisation”, the release added, while also inviting Beijing to take part in arms control dialogue with NATO.

It was the first formal China-NATO dialogue since a tense exchange of statements in June following the NATO and G7 summits. For the first time in NATO's history, the NATO summit in June addressed "China's stated ambitions and assertive behaviour" and "coercive policies which stand in contrast to the fundamental values enshrined in" the North Atlantic Treaty. NATO agreed to engage in constructive dialogue with China on relevant issues, such as climate change, but the summit communique called on the country to "uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system, including in the space, cyber, and maritime domains, in keeping with its role as a major power".

NATO’s statement, which was also released as a Mandarin version, didn’t refer to the Chinese objections. Likewise, large parts of Stoltenberg's concerns didn't appear in the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement. This suggests that there was very little meeting of minds during the discussion.