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China warns US risks catastrophe with moves to ‘contain’ Beijing

China warns US risks catastrophe with moves to ‘contain’ Beijing
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves at a press conference introducing the new members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the 20th Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Central Committee at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, China, 23 October 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE/MARK R. CRISTINO)

China’s new foreign minister warned that soaring US-China tensions risk blowing past any guardrails in the relationship and could have dire consequences for relations between the world’s two biggest economies. 

“The US claims that it seeks to outcompete China but does not seek conflict,” Foreign Minister Qin Gang said on Tuesday at his first news briefing since taking office late last year. “Yet in reality, its so-called competition aims to contain and suppress China in all respects and get the two countries locked in a zero-sum game.”

The remarks – coming with China’s most senior officials gathered in Beijing for the annual National People’s Congress legislative session – signal that tensions over issues including trade, Taiwan and an alleged spy balloon are continuing to sour ties between the nations. 

While a meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in November initially put relations on a steadier footing, with hopes that more senior-level talks would soon get under way, the balloon crisis in February ensured that rapprochement didn’t last. The incident prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned trip to China, with no new date set. 

When Blinken met his counterpart, Wang Yi, in Germany last month, the two traded barbs over issues including Taiwan, North Korea and potential Chinese support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Beijing has rejected the US allegations, saying it hasn’t provided weapons to either Russia or Ukraine, and accuses Washington of stoking the conflict. 

In what China sees as part of an American containment strategy, the US in recent months has put export restrictions on more Chinese companies, citing activities contrary to national security and foreign policy interests. In February, China hit Lockheed Martin and a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies with sanctions and fines for arms sales to Taiwan. 

The comments by Qin on Tuesday were his most extensive since he became China’s No 2 diplomat, following a stint as ambassador in Washington. In that post, Qin was seen as having a softer diplomatic approach toward US-China relations despite a broad range of disagreements between the world’s two biggest economies.

In remarks that will be parsed in Washington, Kyiv and other capitals, Qin praised the country’s partnership with Russia and said that those ties could become increasingly important if the world becomes more unstable. 

“China and Russia have found the path of major country relations featuring strategic trust and good neighbourliness,” Qin said.

Qin said China-Russia ties aren’t aimed at any third country and he criticized the “Cold War mentality” of other nations who see it as a threat – repeating a frequent criticism of the US. He didn’t respond to a question about whether Xi plans to visit Moscow, as Russian state-controlled media have reported. 

China’s relationship with Russia has become a major source of tension between Beijing and Washington. China has struggled to balance its diplomatic and economic support for Russia – Chinese companies have replaced many Western brands in Russia since the war – with its traditional support for the “territorial integrity” of nations. 

Yet since the war began over a year ago, Beijing’s allegiance has appeared to be more on Moscow’s side. Xi has spoken at least four times with President Vladimir Putin since the conflict began, while he has yet to talk with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. 

A position paper issued by China last month on ending the war was quickly dismissed by Kyiv’s allies, who said its implementation – including calling for an end to all sanctions – would offer clear benefits to Putin while undercutting Ukraine. 

China has also pushed back on US accusations that it has considered providing lethal aid to Russia, saying it never sells arms to parties involved in a conflict. BM/DM

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