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Sunday, September 20, 2020

China’s top diplomat warns of brewing ‘conflict and confrontation’ with US

China and the United States are on a path to “conflict and confrontation,” the head of the communist power’s foreign ministry warned while denouncing President Trump’s administration.

“Some American politicians who are biased against and hostile to China are using their power to smear China with fabrications and impede normal ties with China under various pretexts,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Wang Yi told state-run media. “Ultimately, they want to drag China and the U.S. into renewed conflict and confrontation and plunge the world into chaos and division again.”

The foreign minister offered that assessment as a rebuttal to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s landmark address at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library last month, during which he argued that Beijing’s current officials pose a deeper and more insidious threat to the U.S. than even the Soviet Union. Pompeo declared that “the free world must triumph” over the Chinese Communist Party, but Wang maintained that he has committed “a fundamental, strategic miscalculation” with respect to the U.S.-China relationship.

“Today’s China is not the former Soviet Union,” Wang said. “China does not export ideology and never interferes in other countries’ internal affairs.”

Pompeo has conducted a broad diplomatic campaign to counter Chinese influence in Western countries, focused in large part on Beijing’s use of telecommunications technology and economic investments to gain strategic and political influence over American allies. His efforts met with uneven success even among close allies, but China’s crackdown on Hong Kong, censorship of early warnings about the coronavirus pandemic, and brutal repression of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province have helped galvanize some Western suspicion of the Asian heavyweight.

“The central idea of ‘distrust and then verify’ — I think the world is coming to see [it] as the right approach to responding to these challenges,” Pompeo said Thursday.

Pompeo’s team argues that China has “neo-imperial” ambitions rooted in Beijing’s “nationalist and Marxist-Leninist mindset,” as the State Department’s top official for East Asia, David Stilwell, put it recently. China’s claim to sovereignty over the South China Sea, replete with the militarization of artificial islands, has moved to the center of Pompeo’s efforts to counter China in recent weeks, although Beijing seems to have convinced a key U.S. ally not to participate in American-led naval exercises in the area.

The worsening tensions have spurred fears of a potential altercation between the U.S. and China among both American lawmakers and allied officials. Wang said that Washington and Beijing need to “steer clear of red lines and avoid confrontation” in favor of “candid dialogue.”

“Without dialogue, problems will only pile up and even get out of control,” the Chinese official said. “China’s door to dialogue remains open. We are willing, in the spirit of equality and open-mindedness, to talk and interact with the U.S. and resume dialogue mechanisms at all levels and in all fields.”

Wang’s public remarks appear to be “a marker for Chinese diplomats and opinion leaders to follow,” according to the South China Morning Post, which noted that the state-run Xinhua News Agency had taken the “rare” step of publishing the full English translation of the interview. The high-profile U.S. and Chinese statements come in the wake of a June meeting in Hawaii between Pompeo and another senior Chinese official, which the State Department panned as a disappointment.

“Overall, given all the current circumstances with the relationship, the PRC side could not be described as really forthcoming in this,” Stilwell told reporters at the time. “The U.S. side went to great effort to provide an environment for candid and productive discussions.”

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