BEIJING (AP) -- The Chinese mission to the European Union on Tuesday denounced a NATO statement that declared Beijing a "security challenge," saying China is actually a force for peace but will defend itself if threatened.
The Chinese news release said the NATO statement was a "slander on China's peaceful development, a misjudgment of the international situation and (NATO's) own role, and a continuation of the Cold War mentality and organizational political psychology."
NATO allies joined the United States on Monday in formally scolding Beijing as a "constant security challenge."
Washington has singled out China as a particular threat, especially in the South China Sea, where it has built and militarized artificial islands, as well as over its attempts to intimidate self-governing Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory to be annexed by military force if necessary.
The Chinese mission said Beijing's spending on its military is considerably less than that of NATO members and it accused the organization of conjuring up a military threat from China in order to justify its own agenda.
China will "never give up the right to maintain peace but unswervingly defend our sovereignty, security and development interests," the mission said.
NATO leaders said China is working to undermine global order, a message in sync with U.S. President Joe Biden's calls to confront Beijing on China's trade, military and human rights practices.
In a summit statement, the leaders said that China's goals and "assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security."
The leaders expressed concern about what they said were China's "coercive policies," the opaque ways it is modernizing its armed forces and its use of disinformation.
In response, the Chines mission said Beijing's military was purely for defensive purposes and its military modernization was "reasonable, rational, open and transparent."
China's defense budget is the second largest after the U.S., but the mission said the figure of approximately $209 billion was still more than a fifth less than what NATO countries spent combined. Observers say China spends more than it says on its military by not declaring costs for new weapons and other programs.
NATO countries also maintain bases around the world and "send their aircraft carriers all over the place to display their military might," the Chinese mission said.
It also referenced the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Serbia in 1999, which killed three state media journalists. NATO has said that was the result of faulty targeting but most Chinese believe it was a deliberate attack.
The mission also said China's nuclear arsenal is 20 times smaller than that possessed by NATO, and that it would never be the first to use such weapons or use them against non-nuclear nations.
"We will not pose a 'systemic challenge' to anyone, but if anyone wants to pose a 'systemic challenge' to us, we will not sit idly by," the mission said.
NATO should "expend more energy on advancing dialogue and cooperation, and do more things that are truly conducive to maintaining international and regional security and stability," it said.