BEIJING – China's foreign minister has warned Washington of “conflict and confrontation” if it fails to change course in relations with Beijing, striking a combative tone amid conflicts over Taiwan, COVID-19 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Qin Gang's language appeared to defy hopes China's might abandon confrontational “wolf warrior” rhetoric. It followed an accusation by Chinese leader Xi Jinping that Western governments led by the United States were trying to encircle and suppress China.
Washington's China policy has “entirely deviated from the rational and sound track,” Qin said at a news conference Tuesday during annual meeting of China’s ceremonial legislature.
China's relations with Washington and Japan, India and other Asian neighbors have soured as Xi's government has pursued assertive policies abroad.
“If the United States does not hit the brake, but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing and there surely will be conflict and confrontation,” Qin said in his first news conference since taking up his post last year. “Such competition is a reckless gamble, with the stakes being the fundamental interests of the two peoples and even the future of humanity.”
On Monday, Xi accused Washington of hurting China's development.
“Western countries led by the United States have implemented all-round containment, encirclement and suppression of China, which has brought unprecedented grave challenges to our nation’s development,” Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
In the face of that, China must “remain calm, maintain concentration, strive for progress while maintaining stability, take active actions, unite as one and dare to fight,” he said.
A State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said Washington wants to “coexist responsibly” in a global trade and political system and denied the U.S. government wants to suppress China.
“This is not about containing China. This is not about suppressing China. This is not about holding China back," Price said in Washington. “We want to have that constructive competition that is fair” and “doesn’t veer into that conflict.”
U.S. officials are increasingly worried about China's goals and the possibility of war over Taiwan, the self-ruled island democracy claimed by Beijing as part of its territory. Many in Washington have called for the U.S. government to make a bigger effort to counter Chinese influence abroad.
Concerns about Chinese spying on the U.S. and Beijing's influence campaigns there have drawn particular concern.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned visit to Beijing after Washington shot down a Chinese balloon suspected of being used for spying on U.S. territory. Its electronics and optical equipment are being analyzed by the FBI.
Then last week, Beijing reacted with indignation when U.S. officials raised the issue again of whether the COVID-19 outbreak that first was detected in southern China in late 2019 began with a leak from a Chinese laboratory. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the U.S. of “politicizing the issue" in an attempt to discredit China.
The two countries have traded angry words over Taiwan as Xi's government tried to intimidate the island by firing missiles into the sea and flying fighter planes nearby.
Qin was ambassador to Washington until last year and in a previous stint as Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman was known for cutting condemnation of foreign critics.
On Tuesday, he criticized Washington for shooting down the balloon. He repeated claims that its appearance in U.S. skies was an accident.
“In this case the United States' perception and views of China are seriously distorted. It regards China as its primary rival and the most consequential geopolitical challenge," Qin said. “This is like the first button in a shirt being put wrong and the result is that the U.S.-China policy has entirely deviated from the rational and sound track."
Qin called Taiwan the first “red line” that must not be crossed.
China and Taiwan split in 1949 after a civil war. The mainland's Communist Party says the island is obliged to unite with China, by force if necessary.
Washington doesn't public support either unification or formal independence for Taiwan but is obligated by federal law to see that the island has the means to defend itself.
“The U.S. has unshakable responsibility for causing the Taiwan question,” Qin said.
He accused the U.S. government of “disrespecting China's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” by offering the island political backing and furnishing it with weapons in response to Beijing's threat to use force to bring it under Chinese control.
"Why does the U.S. ask China not to provide weapons to Russia, while it keeps selling arms to Taiwan?" Qin asked.
In Taipei, Taiwan's defense minister said the armed forces weren't seeking outright conflict with China's military, but nor would they back away in the event of Chinese aircraft or ships entering Taiwanese coastal seas or airspace.
“It is the nation’s armed forces’ duty to mount an appropriate response,” Chiu Kuo-cheng told legislators.
Beijing has also accused the West of “fanning the flames” by providing Ukraine with weaponry to fend off the Russian invasion. China says it is neutral but said before the invasion that it had a )“no-limits friendship” with Russia. It has refused to criticize Moscow’s attack or to call it an invasion.
A Chinese call for a cease-fire in Ukraine that has drawn praise from Russia but dismissals from the West has done nothing to lessen tensions. U.S. officials accuse China of considering providing weapons to Moscow for use in the war.
“Efforts for peace talks have been repeatedly undermined. There seems to be an invisible hand pushing for the protraction and escalation of the conflict and using the Ukraine crisis to serve a certain geopolitical agenda,” Qin said.
The annual meeting of the National People's Congress is due to endorse the appointment of a new premier and government chosen by the Communist Party in a once-a-decade change.
The meeting also is expected to name Xi to a third term in the ceremonial post of Chinese president after he broke with tradition and awarded himself a third five-year term as ruling party leader in October, possibly preparing to make himself leader for life.
Associated Press Aamer Madhani contributed to this report from Washington.
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