China Threatens US With "Conflict And Confrontation" As Xi Issues "Unusually Blunt" Rebuke Of US Policy
In an unexpectedly sharp escalation of diplomatic rhetoric, China's foreign minister said that the US should change its "distorted" attitude towards China or "conflict and confrontation" will follow, while defending the country's stance on the war in Ukraine and defending its close ties with Russia.
Speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of an annual parliament meeting in Beijing, Foreign minister Qin Gang took an uncharacteristically direct swipe at the US, and said that the U.S. had been engaging in suppression and containment of China rather than engaging in fair, rule-based competition.
"The United States' perception and views of China are seriously distorted," said Qin, a trusted aide to President Xi Jinping and until recently China's ambassador in Washington. "It regards China as its primary rival and the most consequential geopolitical challenge. This is like the first button in the shirt being put wrong."
The U.S. says it is establishing guardrails for relations and is not seeking conflict but Qin said what that meant in practice was that China was not supposed to respond with words or action when slandered or attacked. "That is just impossible," Qin told his first news conference since becoming foreign minister in late December. U.S. officials often speak of establishing guardrails in the bilateral relationship to prevent tensions from escalating into crises.
Qin's comments struck the same the tough tone of his predecessor, Wang Yi, now China's most senior diplomat after being made director of the Foreign Affairs Commission Office at the turn of the year.
"If the United States does not hit the brakes, and continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailment, which will become conflict and confrontation, and who will bear the catastrophic consequences?"
Qin also likened Sino-U.S. competition to a race between two Olympic athletes."If one side, instead of focusing on giving one's best, always tries to trip the other up, even to the extent that they must enter the Paralympics, then this is not fair competition," he said, effectively suggesting that Biden is handicapped.
While relations between the two superpowers have been deteriorating for years over a number of issues including Taiwan, trade and more recently the war in Ukraine, they worsened dramatically last month after the United States shot down a balloon off the U.S. East Coast that it says was a Chinese spying craft.
During Qin's nearly two-hour news conference, he answered questions submitted in advance and made a robust defence of "wolf warrior diplomacy", an assertive and often abrasive stance adopted by China's diplomats since 2020.
"When jackals and wolves are blocking the way, and hungry wolves are attacking us, Chinese diplomats must then dance with the wolves and protect and defend our home and country," he said. Qin also said that an "invisible hand" was pushing for the escalation of the war in Ukraine "to serve certain geopolitical agendas", without specifying who he was referring to.
He reiterated China's call for dialogue to end the war. China struck a "no limits" partnership with Russia last year, weeks before its invasion of Ukraine, and China has blamed NATO expansion for triggering the war, echoing Russia's complaint. Additionally, China has declined to condemn the invasion and has fiercely defended its stance on Ukraine, despite Western criticism of its failure to single Russia out as the aggressor.
While China has vehemently denied U.S. accusations that it has been considering supplying Russia with weapons, Qin said China had to advance its relations with Russia as the world becomes more turbulent and close interactions between President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, anchored the neighbours' relations.
He did not give a definite answer when asked if Xi would visit Russia after China's "Two Sessions" event, which goes on for one more week. He did, however, say that the Ukraine crisis has a complex history and cause. In essence, it is an eruption of the problems built up in the security governance of Europe.
"The Ukraine crisis is a tragedy that could have been avoided. But it has come to where it stands today. There are hard lessons that all parties should truly reflect upon."
The Ukraine crisis is a tragedy that could have been avoided. But it has come to where it stands today. There are hard lessons that all parties should truly reflect upon. pic.twitter.com/orc0koUwWt— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) March 7, 2023
Naturally, Qin also mentioned Taiwan, saying that "If the US truly expects a peaceful Taiwan Strait, it should stop containing China by exploiting the Taiwan question, return to the fundamental of the one-China principle, honor its political commitment to China, and unequivocally oppose and forestall Taiwan independence."
Qin also warned that mishandling of the Taiwan question will shake the very foundation of China-US relations: "Separatism for Taiwan independence is as incompatible with peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait as fire with water."
"For peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, its real threat is the separatist forces for Taiwan independence, its solid anchor is the one-China principle, and its genuine guardrails are the three China-US joint communiqués."
The foreign minister then made several key observations, exposing US hypocrisy:
"The Chinese people have every right to ask: Why does the US talk at length about respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity on Ukraine, while disrespecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity on the Taiwan question?"
"Why does the US ask China not to provide weapons to Russia, while it keeps selling arms to Taiwan in violation of the August 17 Communiqué?"
Why does the US keep on professing the maintenance of regional peace and stability, while covertly formulating a “plan for the destruction of Taiwan”?
The bottom line: "The Taiwan question is the core of the core interests of China, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-US relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations."
Asked whether it was possible that China and Russia would abandon the U.S. dollar and euro for bilateral trade, Qin said countries should use whatever currency was efficient, safe and credible.
China has been looking to internationalize its currency, the yuan, which gained popularity in Russia last year after Western sanctions shut Russia's banks and many of its companies out of the dollar and euro payment systems.
"Currencies should not be the trump card for unilateral sanctions, still less a disguise for bullying or coercion," Qin said, clearly referring to the weaponization of the US dollar in the aftermath of the Ukraine war.
* * *
It wasn't just the foreign minister lashing out at the US: Chinese leader Xi Jinping also issued what the WSJ dubbed an "unusually blunt rebuke" of U.S. policy on Monday, blaming what he termed a Washington-led campaign to suppress China for recent challenges facing his country.
“Western countries—led by the U.S.—have implemented all-round containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedentedly severe challenges to our country’s development,” Xi was quoted by state media as saying on Monday, the WSJ reported.
Xi’s comments marked an unusual departure for a leader who has generally refrained from directly criticizing the U.S. in public remarks—even as his decadelong leadership has demonstrated a pessimistic view of the bilateral relationship. The accusation of U.S. suppression of China’s development over the past five years comes as Mr. Xi faces charges from investors that China’s economy has been damaged by his policies, including the emphasis on national security.
The comments were part of a speech to members of China’s top political advisory body during an annual legislative session in Beijing, according to a Chinese-language readout published by the official Xinhua News Agency.
As the WSJ notes, "while Xi has mentioned the U.S. in critical tones during internal speeches, such remarks have often filtered out through subordinates relaying his messages for broader audiences, within the party and beyond." In statements made in public settings or directly reported by state media, Xi has typically been more measured and vague regarding the U.S. and other Western countries, referring to them as “certain” countries rather than naming them explicitly.
Not this time: by directly accusing the U.S. of seeking containment, a term loaded with Cold War meaning, Xi appears to be associating himself more closely with nationalist rhetoric—widely used by lower-ranking officials and state media—that attacks Washington, at a time when bilateral tensions continue to simmer over trade, technology, geopolitical influence and discordant views on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The English-language version of Xi’s speech reported by Xinhua didn’t refer to containment or the U.S. Instead, it quoted him telling fellow officials to “have the courage to fight as the country faces profound and complex changes in both the domestic and international landscape.”
The accusations by Xi against the U.S., delivered to an audience that includes politically connected businesspeople, appeared in part to be an effort by Xi to shift blame away from his own policymaking, including tough Covid controls that have weakened the economy and pressure on technology companies that cost the industry some of its dynamism.