Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has warned that a major confrontation between China and the US is inevitable if Washington does not change its course in dealing with Beijing.
In a speech outlining the development of China-US relations, Wang said Taiwan had become the biggest risk in their bilateral ties, and the imposition of any Western system on mainland China would be futile.
China-US ties had reached their lowest point since normalisation in 1979, Wang said, despite both Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden vowing to put relations on the right track.
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“The US seems to have two different sets of musical scores. Their leaders’ political will for a stable bilateral relationship has yet to be translated into logical policies,” he said.
Wang was speaking on Thursday at the Asia Society in New York ahead of talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.
Wang referred to the US designation of Beijing as a major rival, its moves to strengthen regional alliances to encircle mainland China, restricting Chinese tech companies because of national security concerns and boosting ties with Taiwan with the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August.
“If the US handles Sino-US relations along a zero-sum game mentality and continues to use ‘political correctness’ to mislead its China policy, it will not only fail to solve its own problems, but will also bring Sino-US relations to conflict and confrontation,” he said.
“The US has been making endless provocations on China’s core interests and development rights, but at the same time it is calling for stabilising relations and avoiding confrontation. This is contradictory in logic and reality.”
Wang and Blinken had an extensive meeting in July on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting. The two sides described the talk as “constructive” and “candid” – diplomatic language meaning there were disagreements, but China also proposed areas of cooperation with the US.
The prospect for China-US ties followed a further downward trend after the talks, with Beijing sanctioning Pelosi and her immediate family members following her trip to Taiwan and halting several defence dialogues and their climate change cooperation.
Beijing sees Pelosi’s trip as a US endorsement of a pro-independence agenda for Taiwan. Beijing sees the island as part of China and has never ruled out the use of force to take control of it. Most countries, including the US, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state. Washington, however, opposes any attempt to take the island by force.
US President Joe Biden said on Sunday that American troops would defend Taiwan if Beijing were to attack the island – triggering a protest from Beijing.
“The Taiwan question is growing into the biggest risk in China-US relations. Should it be mishandled, it is most likely to devastate bilateral ties,” Wang said.
“Just as the US will not allow Hawaii to be stripped away, China has the right to uphold the unification of the country,” he said.
A US Senate committee took a first step in providing billions of dollars in weapons directly to Taiwan to deter Beijing.
Tensions have also risen over human rights with the US accusing Beijing of genocide against Muslim Uygur people in Xinjiang, which Beijing has denied.
Biden views China as the main rival to the US.
“China does not deny that there is competition between China and the United States in the fields of economy and trade, and is not afraid of competition, but we do not agree to simply using competition to define China-US relations,” he said.
“The US cannot on one hand damage China’s core interest, while on the other hand demand China cooperate unconditionally”.
Wang said China had no intention of replacing the US, saying China had not exported its ideology or colonised any nations in its history. But he said the US could not change China according to “its own likes and dislikes”.
“Neither China nor the US can defeat each other,” he said.
“Since modern times, the Chinese people have been arduously exploring the road of national salvation and revitalisation. Various plans, including those of the Western system, have been introduced one after another, but they have all ended in failure due to unsatisfactory conditions.”
The coming talks between Wang and Blinken are expected to determine how the two nations will ease the tensions, and may lay the groundwork for Xi and Biden to have their first face-to-face meeting, most likely to be in Bali in November on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
But tensions over Taiwan and Ukraine might overshadow the talks. On Wednesday, Biden excoriated Russia for invading Ukraine, and criticised Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang, overseas infrastructure financing and its nuclear weapons build-up.
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