One day after President Trump unexpectedly said that he might not be friends anymore with China's president Xi Jinping during a "wild", unscripted news conference, during which he also said he has "evidence" of Beijing trying to interfere in U.S. congressional elections in November - a move that further raises tensions as the world’s biggest economies fight a trade war - China denied Trump’s accusations and said that it urges the U.S. "to stop smearing and accusing China."
Speaking in a media briefing on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that "China has all along followed the principle of non-interference and refuses to accept any groundless accusations."
“We advise the United States to stop this unceasing criticism and slander of China,” Geng said. “Stop these wrong words and deeds that damage bilateral relations and the basic interests of both countries’ peoples.”
Trump's remark was seen as a signal of further deterioration in ties, feeding fears that the two countries are heading toward a longer term confrontation that could have widespread geopolitical ramifications. And despite claiming that he has it, Trump provided no evidence at the UN Security Council meeting.
Also on Thursday, China’s defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang demanded the United States "dispel obstacles" and "take a reasonable and sincere attitude" to improving military ties and stop slandering it, amid growing tensions over trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and - most recently - Trump’s claims of China meddling in the upcoming U.S. election.
The two countries, which are already embroiled in an acrimonious trade war, have continued to butt heads over a list of sensitive issues including the disputed South China Sea and self-ruled Taiwan, armed by Washington but claimed by Beijing. On Saturday, China summoned the U.S. ambassador in Beijing and postponed joint military talks to protest Washington’s decision to sanction a Chinese military agency and its director for buying Russian fighter jets and a surface-to-air missile system.
"Arms sales undermine trust between the U.S. and Chinese militaries," Guoqiang told reporters quoted by Bloomberg. He reiterated China’s opposition to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, saying Xi’s government had a problem with the “nature” of the sales and not the "quantity."
Asked about the latest round of U.S. sanctions on some $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, Ren said the U.S. should “solely be blamed for the current problems and bear the full consequences. We demand that the U.S. side take a reasonable and mature attitude and act with sincerity, taking concrete actions to improve bilateral military to military relations.”
Guoqiang told a monthly briefing that the United States should take steps to improve military relations and expressed China’s firm opposition to “provocative” U.S. air force flights over the South China Sea, after U.S. B-52s flew in the vicinity of the waterway this week. He also hinted a planned visit to the United States later this year for Defense Minister Wei Fenghe could be in doubt.
“The United States is to blame for the present problem, so the United States must immediately correct its mistakes, and withdraw the so-called sanctions to dispel obstacles that interfere in the healthy development of relations between the two militaries,” Ren said, when asked about Wei’s trip.
In its latest retaliatory response, Beijing denied a request for a U.S. warship to visit Hong Kong, although Ren said he had no further information on that. Adding fuel to the flames, China was angered this week when the United States approved the sale of spare parts for F-16 fighter planes and other military aircraft worth up to $330 million to Taiwan, which China considers a "wayward province."
Before his UN speech, Trump tweeted that China was “placing propaganda ads” in U.S. newspapers, referring to a Chinese government-run media company’s four-page supplement in the Sunday Des Moines Register promoting the mutual benefits of U.S.-China trade. Asked about the tweet, Geng said that such advertisements by foreign media were commonplace and allowed by U.S. law.
“To say that this regular cooperation is China’s government interfering in the U.S. elections is totally far-fetched and without foundation in facts."
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China’s commerce ministry said it was “ridiculous” for the United States to think that pressure could force concessions from China, sparked by Trump’s blaming China for stealing U.S. intellectual property, limiting access to its own market and unfairly subsidizing state-owned companies.
“I want to stress that bullying and maximum pressure will not scare China and will not cause China’s economy to collapse,” ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters.
Gao was answering a question about comments by former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who last week told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post that Trump planned to make the trade war “unbearably painful” for Beijing and would not back down.