China’s interaction with NATO in the post-Cold War era from 1991 onwards has taught Beijing valuable lessons in US management of complex security relations with allies. Since the first Opium War between Britain and China from 1939 to 1942, Chinese political authorities have adapted Western international strategies for protecting their interests to domestic practices. Coordination and dialogue with NATO during the liberal internationalist era offered opportunities for lessons in US alliance management that has encouraged revisiting its non-alignment stance designed to avoid entrapment in conflicts instigated by partners. NATO’s expeditionary wars confirmed to China that mutual defence commitments were too costly for a rising power still in need of stronger capabilities. By contrast, the transatlantic alliance’s unity of purpose in supporting Ukraine following Russia’s 2022 invasion and NATO’s decision to go global to coordinate deterrence with like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific has contributed to Beijing’s resolve to maintain its decades-long strategic partnership with Russia and use it as a platform for expanding its security foothold in the global South. In the era of strategic competition, China attempts to balance its non-aligned status with the need for enhanced security commitments to strategic partners to try to match its US peer competitor.