Chinese state media has warned it's "an extremely unwise choice" for nations in the Asia-Pacific to move closer to NATO, saying that will "inevitably" lead to consequences like damaged trust with Beijing.
"This is a very negative move," Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times said in an editorial on Tuesday night.
"What can participation in this transatlantic military and political gathering with a strong Cold War characteristic and strong hostility toward China bring to these Asia-Pacific countries? What will they lose? It's not difficult to figure out."
The veiled threat comes as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attends a NATO leaders summit in Madrid, Spain, where member nations are expected to release a new Strategic Concept document, outlining their priorities and approaches for the next decade.
NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg has said that for the first time that will include addressing the "challenges that Beijing poses".
New Zealand isn't a member of the military alliance - which is made up of the United States, Canada and a large number of European countries - but is one of four Asia-Pacific countries invited to the summit.
Ardern has rejected that participating in the summit draws New Zealand closer to the alliance - we've worked with NATO in different capacities before and are referred to as one of its "partners across the globe" - but it's the first time a New Zealand Prime Minister has participated.
The Global Times, which is Chinese state media, claims that the war in Ukraine is a consequence of NATO attempting to advance its security. Russia has previously attempted to justify its invasion of the sovereign nation by claiming it feared Ukraine will join the alliance.
The editorial worries that NATO could also be trying to get its fingers into the Asia-Pacific.
"Facts have proven that the extreme pursuit of absolute security under the name of collective defense will eventually lead to confrontation between camps. In other words, NATO is by no means an antidote to Europe's security crisis, but poison.
"If anyone spreads such poison to East Asia, which is called 'the oasis of world peace and development,' the behaviour is insidious and appalling."
It says Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand "should not be present at the NATO summit".
"The countries that are moving toward NATO, either actively or passively, may gain a few compliments from Washington, and make somewhat connections with the military bloc. However, the interests of Asia-Pacific countries are based on the peace and stability of the region."
By "catering to NATO's Asia-Pacificization", countries would be "inviting wolves into the house".
"It's an extremely unwise choice for any Asia-Pacific country and is bound to damage that country's strategic trust with China, inevitably leading to consequences.
"The sewage of the Cold War cannot be allowed to flow into the Pacific Ocean - this should be the general consensus in the Asia-Pacific region."
The article goes on to compare countries who may bring "Cold War into the Asia-Pacific" to those "people who insist on not driving drunk despite the fact they do".
Speaking last Monday ahead of her travel to the NATO summit this week, Ardern said the event coincided with her already planned trade trip to Europe.
"With the instability faced by the region at present, New Zealand is keen to be a part of discussions to support the peace and security of all democratic nations," she said.
"We will be discussing key security issues for the Indo-Pacific, but in addition, it will also be an opportunity to have a series of bilaterals with other European leaders who are expected to attend."
She said participating in the summit didn't mean New Zealand was being drawn closer to NATO.
"It means we have been, for the last roughly 10 years, a NATO partner. We’ve worked alongside NATO in other areas before, and, of course, in this current war in Ukraine, you will have seen that New Zealand has, through the NATO trust fund, supported the distribution of aid and support. But again, we maintain the status that we have for the last 10 years."
Ardern arrived in Spain on Tuesday and has sat down for bilaterals with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and French President Emmanuel Macron. She's also spoken at a Tech4Democracy event.
NATO deputy spokesperson Piers Cazalet told Newshub Nation on Saturday that the group wants to develop closer partnerships with countries around the globe which share similar values. He said climate change and cyber-security need to be addressed at a global level.
"We have been working in recent years to develop a set of partnerships with nations around the globe where we can cooperate more closely with them and New Zealand is one of these countries," Cazalet said.
"I think we are seeing increasingly the rise of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia, and the countries who don't share those values need to be able to stick together and work together to make sure that we can protect our values."
The Global Times comments aren't the first time China has warned New Zealand against grouping up into "exclusive circles". Earlier this month, the Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand said practising "bloc politics" could be a "dangerous slippery slope to unmitigated disasters".
New Zealand has been vocal in recent months in opposing China's security cooperation agreement with the Solomon Islands. In response to Beijing's attempts to sign a region-wide deal with Pacific nations, the Government's said such issues should be discussed by all Pacific Islands Forum members at their meeting next month.