April 9, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9281

Chinese Expert Zhou Bo: As A Military Organization, NATO Belongs To The Past; The World Is Moving Toward A Multi-Polar World Order

April 9, 2021
China | Special Dispatch No. 9281

On March 24, 2021, the China Forum platform published an interview with Chinese expert Zhou Bo, former director of the Center for Security Cooperation in the Office for International Military Cooperation in the Chinese Ministry of Defense and senior fellow of the Centre for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University, on China-NATO relations.[1]

Zhou stated that NATO should clarify its position on China, since NATO has described China as both an opportunity and a challenge. Stating that China has become "big enough" for NATO to be "interested in," he added that with the expansion of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, NATO suddenly discovered that "China has entered NATO's territory."

In February, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: "The rise of China is a defining issue for the transatlantic community, with potential consequences for our security, our prosperity and our way of life."[2]  However, according to Zhou, China can be an opportunity for NATO, rather than a challenge, and that in some non-traditional security areas China and NATO could cooperate.

Zhou concluded by assessing that NATO, as a military organization, belongs to the past and is going "in the opposite direction of the general trend of the times," in view of the fact that the world is moving toward a "more multi-polarized and pluralistic world order."

Below is Zhou Bo's interview:[3]

Zhou Bo (Source:

If China And The U.S. Decouple, 'Then Europe Would Reap The Benefits'

Zhou: "The relationship between China and NATO has a unique feature. That is, most NATO countries are also EU members. They have an overall good relationship, especially in terms of economy and trade, with China. That is gratifying. To some extent, if America's relationship with China really reached a point of decoupling, then Europe would reap the benefits, because Chinese technology and capital would flow towards Europe.

"The top priority of NATO is political rather than military. NATO and China, to a certain extent, have a 'no interaction' and 'don't step on each other's toes' relationship. At this moment, it remains to be seen to what extent NATO can be hijacked by America onto its warship. If such a large military organization follows America and becomes its henchman in antagonizing China, then Chinese-Russian relations will probably get closer."

NATO Secretary-General Described China As A Top Challenge

Reporter: "During this year's Munich Security Conference, NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg said that NATO is now facing a series of challenges. But surprisingly, he listed China as a primary challenge. Why does NATO think China is the main challenge? What is your opinion on this?"

Zhou: "This is indeed very surprising. According to NATO's previous statements, for example in the 2019 NATO summit, NATO described China as both an opportunity and a challenge. Up to now NATO has not viewed China as a clear threat. The NATO Secretary-General's speech, as a written document, described China as their top challenge. When meeting with the press, he mentioned that NATO did not think China was an adversary. He thereby offered a clarification."

'NATO Has Been Searching For Enemies'

Reporter: "NATO is the product of the Cold War. With the end of the Cold War, NATO should disband like the Warsaw Pact. But NATO is still expanding. How do you view this phenomenon?"

Zhou: "Everyone knows NATO is a military organization. Why did NATO not disappear, but instead continues to expand? But actually, its top priority is political. That is, to defend the so-called Western values. NATO has been searching for enemies. First, it has to exaggerate the so-called Russian Threat. The Russian economy is roughly on par with Italy's. If you add all NATO member states together, their GDP would be 20 times that of Russian GDP. Within NATO, excluding the U.S., there are two nuclear weapon states. The Russian threat being played up to such an extent is certainly excessive."

'The Logic Is That China Has Become Big Enough For NATO To Be Interested In'

Reporter: "Taking into account NATO's statements on China, what is the underlying logic from 'having no interactions' to conducting joint counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden and other cooperation?"

Zhou: "The logic is that China has become big enough for NATO to be interested in. NATO has even felt a kind of 'anxiety.' NATO does not have a fully mature policy towards China. Historically, NATO maintained that whether on the South China Sea issue or the Senkaku Island issue, it held no stance. It also would not intervene in the Taiwan issue.

"NATO has suddenly discovered that 'China has entered NATO's territory.' Why is that? Because now the PLA Navy could cruise anywhere around the world to familiarize ourselves with the international waters. The PLA Naval vessels are found everywhere. We have gone to all the places we should go. We appeared off West Africa's coast for the first time, the Aleutians near the Bering Strait. We have escorted ships in the Gulf of Aden. The PLA Navy has a huge number of ships. According to CNN, the Chinese navy is the largest in the world, even exceeding America's by more than 60 ships. Of course, we cannot simply sail in our immediate vicinity.

"The PLA Navy has grown to global blue water navy. Of course, we are going to sail everywhere in international waters."

'In Some Non-Traditional Security Areas China And NATO Could Cooperate'

Reporter: "After the Cold War, has NATO lost its direction, especially when the threat from Russia is not that big? It needs to find a new imaginary enemy. Is China NATO's imaginary enemy? In NATO's history, how did it interact with China?"

Zhou: "NATO was basically established against the Warsaw Pact. After the Cold War, what the Chinese people will never forget is the 1990 NATO bombing on the Chinese embassy. It left a very negative impression on the Chinese people. But time can also change things. For example, China and NATO are both involved in escorting ships transiting the Gulf of Aden.

"This is a historic opportunity for China and the world's largest military organization to engage with each other. In 2009, our task force Commander Wang Zhiguo and Force Commander for NATO Task Force 508, Commodore Steve Chick made a historic handshake. This was a historic handshake in the military arena. From then on, we began to have normal exchanges.

"In 2016, China and NATO held a joint anti-piracy exercise. We did boarding inspections and mutual helicopter landings. In some non-traditional security areas China and NATO could cooperate."

'If China And Russia Worked Together Against NATO, That Would Be NATO's Worst Nightmare'

Reporter: "Russia has been holding back. Do you think China and Russia could work together against NATO?"

Zhou: "There is the issue of how NATO views Russia and China. China and NATO overall have a relationship, where we avoid stepping on each other's toes. The United States very much hopes that during great a power competition it can win with NATO against China, because China right now is America's so-called primary strategic competitor. But such likelihood is a different issue. If China and Russia worked together against NATO that will be NATO's worst nightmare. Many American strategists have warned that China and Russia must not be allowed to form an alliance.

"[French President Emmanuel] Macron said that Europe can best establish its global influence in mediating the relationship between China and the United States, two gorillas. China and NATO could find areas of cooperation.

"Former NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen said that NATO and China can work together on, for example, nuclear non-proliferation, anti-piracy and counterterrorism."

'NATO Relies On Finding Enemies To Justify Its Survival And Growth'

Reporter: "What do you think of the future of NATO?"

Zhou: "NATO's existence is worldwide. First, there is military alliance. Second, there are partnerships. Third, there are relationships with regional organizations.

"No military alliance can last forever. NATO relies on finding enemies to justify its survival and growth. Such development of a military organization is in the opposite direction of the general trend of the times. The international situation has changed significantly. The world will probably see a more multi-polarized and pluralistic world order. We still hope that we can have a decent working relationship.

"Now China and NATO have normal exchanges. Both sides also have exchanged delegation to conduct policy discussions and communications."


[1] China Forum (CF) is a permanent platform of Center for International Strategies and Security (CISS), Tsinghua University headed by Fu Ying, sponsored by Shanghai Institute for Developmental and Strategic Studies.

[2], February 19, 2021.

[3], March 24, 2021. Zhou Bo was interviewed by Han Hua, member of China Forum Executive Committee.

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