BEIJING (AP) — In his first news conference since taking office, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang lashed out Tuesday at the United States over deteriorating bilateral relations and Washington’s support for Taiwan. He also insinuated that America was undermining efforts for peace in Ukraine in order to extend the conflict for its own benefit.
Washington’s China policy has “entirely deviated from the rational and sound track,” Qin told journalists on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, in his only formal scheduled news conference for the year, although he is also prone to taking questions during foreign visits.
Washington “means to contain and suppress China in all respects and get the two countries locked in a zero-sum game,” he said.
“It’s so-called establishing guardrails and not seeking conflict simply means that China should not respond in words or action when slandered or attacked,” Qin said. “That is just impossible.”
“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,” he said. “Such competition is a reckless gamble, with the stakes being the fundamental interests of the two peoples and even the future of humanity.”
Qin’s harsh and borderline apocalyptic language appeared to defy predictions that China was abandoning its aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy in favor of a more moderate presentation as bilateral relations have hit a historical low over trade and technology, Taiwan, human rights and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
China last week responded with indignation to U.S. suggestions that COVID-19, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, originated from a leak of the virus from a Chinese lab. The Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. of “politicizing the issue” in an attempt to discredit China.
After serving briefly as ambassador to Washington, Qin was appointed foreign minister at the end of December, in which role he is junior to the Communist Party’s senior foreign policy official, Wang Yi. Earlier in his career, he served as Foreign Ministry spokesperson, gaining a reputation for his tartly worded condemnations of China’s critics.
On Tuesday, Qin repeated criticisms of Washington’s recent shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the U.S. east coast, saying that was entirely an unexpected accident caused by force majuere.
“However, in violation of the spirit of international law, international customary practices, the United States acted with the presumption of guilt,” Qin said. “It overreacted, abused force and dramatized the accident, creating a diplomatic crisis that could have been avoided.”
“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.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned visit to Beijing in the wake of the balloon incident, frustrating hopes for improved ties after meetings between top leaders at multilateral gatherings in late 2022. The massive balloon and its payload, including electronics and optics, have been recovered from the ocean floor and are being analyzed by the FBI.
Turning to Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy China claims as its own territory, Qin called the issue the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations.
“The U.S. has unshakable responsibility for causing the Taiwan question,” he said, accusing the U.S. of “disrespecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” by offering the island political backing and furnishing it with defensive 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 said. “Mishandling of the Taiwan question will shake the very foundation of China-U.S. relations.”
China has stepped up its diplomatic isolation and military harassment of Taiwan, prompting a string of visits from U.S. and European politicians to show their support, along with new arms sales and a push by Taiwanese authorities to boost domestic defense capabilities.
Beijing has also accused the West of “fanning the flames” by providing Ukraine with weaponry to fend off the Russian invasion. China says it has a neutral stance in the war that began one year ago, but has also said it has a “no-limits friendship” with Russia and has refused to criticize Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, or even refer to it as an invasion.
A Chinese peace proposal for Ukraine that has drawn praise from Russia but dismissals from the West has done nothing to lessen tensions as U.S. officials have repeatedly accused China of considering the provision of weapons to Russia 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.
“Conflicts, sanctions and pressure will not solve the problem. What is needed is calmness, reason and dialogue,” he said.
The minister also attacked U.S. actions in the Indo-Pacific, where Washington and its allies have been alarmed over China’s moves to woo a number island nations. That includes signing a pact with the Solomon Islands that would allow port visits by Chinese warships for “logistical replenishment” and for China to send police, military personnel and other armed forces to the Solomons “to assist in maintaining social order.”
“The U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, while purportedly aimed at upholding freedom and openness, maintaining security and promoting prosperity in the region is, in fact, an attempt to gang up to form exclusive blocs to provoke confrontation by plotting an Asian-Pacific version of NATO,” Qin said.
Qin’s news conference came two days after the opening of the yearly meeting of the National People’s Congress, a mostly ceremonial body assembled to approve government reports and, this year, a new slate of top-level appointments. That is expected to include a norm-breaking third five-year term as president for Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, who has eliminated all term limits to allow him to rule indefinitely.
At Sunday’s opening session, outgoing Premier Li Keqiang announced plans for a consumer-led revival of the struggling economy, setting this year’s growth target at “around 5%.”
Separately, the Ministry of Finance announced a 7.2% budget increase for the ruling party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, to 1.55 trillion yuan ($224 billion), marking a slight increase over 2022. China’s military spending is the world’s second highest after the United States.
A spokesperson for the congress said such spending was needed to meet “complex security challenges.”
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