China‘s foreign minister said Tuesday that U.S. efforts to contain and pressure his country will lead to confrontation and conflict unless Washington changes its policies.
Foreign Minister Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing that the shootdown of a Chinese surveillance balloon last month had created a “crisis” in relations, and efforts by the Biden administration to set up “guard rails” in relations will fail.
“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 will surely be conflict and confrontation,” said Mr. Qin, who took office in December as part of a continuing shakeup of the top ranks of the Communist regime engineered by President Xi Jinping.
The warning followed a rare public attack on the United States a day earlier by Mr. Xi, who blamed the United States for China’s recent economic downturn.
“Western countries — led by the U.S. — have implemented all-round containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedentedly severe challenges to our country’s development,” Mr. Xi said, according to state media on Monday.
The harsh anti-U.S. rhetoric comes amid a sharp upturn in Chinese propaganda attacks, blaming Washington for everything from causing the pandemic to starting wars and undermining democracy.
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Former State Department China policymaker Miles Yu said Mr. Xi’s speech was boilerplate communist rhetoric designed for domestic audiences.
“Every CCP leader since Mao, even more, every communist leader since Marx and Lenin, has said exactly the same — that the West has the innate strategy and plot to nip all communist entity from existence,” Mr. Yu said. “Pro-China alarmists love to play this speech while in fact Xi has not deviated from his usual script.”
China’s government in the past often moderated critical commentary of the United States in a bid to protect extensive economic ties between the two countries, including nearly $700 billion in two-way trade last year.
That appears to be changing, as China state media in recent months accused the United States of creating the COVID-19 virus in a military laboratory, and for starting the Ukraine war, allegations U.S. officials have rejected as false. President Biden is also facing bipartisan pressure from Capitol Hill to take a tougher stand on China over issues such as COVID-19, Taiwan and human rights.
U.S. officials say China-affiliated actors have been generating false news reports about the United States using artificial intelligence and are continuing to exploit U.S. social media platforms to criticize America, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
China’s government is engaged in aggressive influence operations as part of a large-scale covert operation that mirrors those of Russia. “To us, the attempt is what stands out,” a U.S. intelligence official told AP.
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For the record, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre refused to engage with the Chinese minister, telling reporters Tuesday,
“I can’t speak to the intent from Chinese officials,” she said. “What I can speak to is how we’re approaching this. The president’s approach to China has not changed. … We do not see conflict, and we do not want conflict.”
Mr. Qin, the Chinese foreign minister, said the balloon shootdown over the Carolina coast early last month shows that U.S. views of China as a primary rival and major geopolitical challenge are distorted.
“The United States claims that it seeks to ‘out-compete’ China but does not seek conflict.” Mr. Qin said. “Yet in reality, its so-called ‘competition’ means to contain and suppress China in all respects and get the two countries locked in a zero-sum game.”
Within the Chinese system, Mr. Qin is viewed by analysts as not holding a key position of power as foreign minister. More senior Chinese Communist Party officials are said to be key players in Beijing’s foreign policy and Mr. Qin, who was China‘s ambassador to the U.S. before being elevated to the foreign minister’s post, is viewed as mainly a propagandist.
“Containment and suppression will not make America great, and it will not stop the rejuvenation of China,” he said.
Administration policymakers have denied that U.S. policy seeks to contain China’s modernization. U.S. officials have justified policies restricting Chinese access to cutting-edge technology as part of a larger strategy of preventing American know-how from bolstering Chinese large-scale military buildup.
Mr. Xi has made the revival of communism in China and its use as an alternative to Western democracy a key element of his policies. Since he came to power in 2012, Marxist-Leninist ideology has been revived amid increased warnings that China‘s rise to be a global economic and military superpower is being stifled by the Western world led by the United States.
Mr. Qin defended China’s use of aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy that has been used over the past several years in harsh political attacks on the United States and other rivals. He recalled that when he arrived in Washington in 2021, he was described as a wolf warrior but back in Beijing media outlets had stopped using the term.
“I kind of feel at a loss,” he said, dismissing the term as a “narrative trap.”
“In China’s diplomacy, there is no shortage of goodwill and kindness,” he said. “But if faced with jackals or wolves, Chinese diplomats would have no choice but to confront them head-on and protect our motherland.”
In his remarks, Mr. Qin repeated past claims that Taiwan was an integral part of China and addressed U.S. assessments that Beijing plans to take military action against the island democracy by 2027.
China is prepared to safeguard sovereignty and territorial integrity, either peacefully or through force, Mr. Qin said, calling the Taiwan question “the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations.”
“The U.S. has unshirkable responsibility for causing the Taiwan question,” he said.
China’s military has been stepping up provocative military flights near Taiwan. In recent days more than 80 warplanes have flown into Taiwan air defense zone in what U.S. officials have said violates the fragile status quo across the Taiwan Strait.
A State Department official said the department’s Global Engagement Center is not directly countering Chinese propaganda.
“There was a decision made that we were not going to get in the business of playing whack-a-mole with specific lines of Chinese messaging,” the official told AP. “Frankly, there’s just too much of it. It would be like trying to put your finger in the dam to stop the leak.”
State Department efforts instead have focused on funding programs that expose facts and ideas China’s government is seeking to suppress.