China’s New Foreign Minister Warns of Conflict With US, Defends Russia Ties

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China’s new Foreign Minister Qin Gang warned Tuesday that “conflict and confrontation” with the United States is inevitable if Washington does not change course, delivering a stern and wide-ranging rebuke of US policies for his first press conference in the new role.

Qin, who was until recently China’s ambassador to the US, built up a reputation for being careful and accomplished diplomat while overseas.

But he struck a far more combative tone in his first appearance as foreign minister at China’s annual parliamentary meeting, warning of the “catastrophic consequences” of what he described as a “reckless gamble” by Washington in how it treats its fellow superpower.

“If the United States does not hit the brakes, but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing, and there will surely be conflict and confrontation,” Qin said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in Beijing.

At the highly scripted event, Qin set the tone for China’s foreign policy for the coming year and beyond, berating the US for rising bilateral tensions and defending Beijing’s close partnership with Moscow.

Ties between the world’s two largest economies are at their worst in decades, and tensions soared further last month after a suspected Chinese spy balloon floated over North America and was then shot down by US fighter jets.

On Tuesday, Qin accused the US of overreacting in its response, which he said created “a diplomatic crisis that could have been avoided.”

The incident, Qin said, shows “the US perception and views of China are seriously distorted. It regards China as its primary rival and the biggest geopolitical challenge.”

“The US claims it seeks to compete with China but does not seek conflict. But in reality, the so-called ‘competition’ by the US is all-round containment and suppression, a zero-sum game of life and death,” he said.

“Containment and suppression will not make America great, and the US will not stop the rejuvenation of China,” Qin said.

Colliding powers

The great power rivalry between the US and China has intensified in recent years.

Under leader Xi Jinping, China has become increasingly authoritarian at home and assertive abroad, taking a more aggressive approach to exert its influence and counter the West.

And Washington has pushed back.

Under the Biden administration, the US has shored up ties with allies and partners to contain Beijing’s rising influence, including in its backyard.

It has also pushed to decouple from China in emerging technologies, recently banning the export of advanced chips to the fury of Beijing.

Qin lashed out at Washington for its Indo-Pacific strategy, accusing it of forming exclusive blocks to provoke confrontation, advocating for decoupling and plotting an “Asia-Pacific version of NATO.”

“The real purpose of the Indo-Pacific strategy is to contain China,” Qin said. “No Cold War should be repeated in Asia, and no Ukraine-style crisis should be repeated in Asia.”

China’s refusal to condemn Russia for the invasion of Ukraine and its growing partnership with Moscow have further strained its relations with the West. While Beijing has sought to cast itself as a neutral peace broker, it has also defended its “rock-solid” ties with Russia.

On Tuesday Qin said the Sino-Russian relationship “does not pose a threat to any country in the world, nor will it be interfered or sowed discord in by any third party.”

“The more unstable the world becomes, the more imperative it is for China and Russia to steadily advance their relations,” he said.

Qin highlighted the issue of Taiwan as the “bedrock of the political foundation of Sino-US relations and the first red line that must not be crossed.”

The Chinese Communist Party claims the self-governing democracy of Taiwan as part of its territory, despite having never controlled it, and refuses to rule out the use of force to “reunify” it with mainland China.

On Tuesday, Qin urged the US not to “interfere in China’s internal affairs” and questioned Washington’s different responses to the issues of Ukraine and Taiwan.

“Why does the US talk up respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity on the Ukraine issue, but does not respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity on the issue of Taiwan? Why does the US ask China not to provide weapons to Russia while keeps selling arms to Taiwan?” Qin said.

McCarthy visit?

Qin’s remarks come amid reports of a potential meeting between Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in April.

The Financial Times reported Monday that Tsai could meet McCarthy in California, rather than in Taiwan as the US Speaker had initially indicated.

A US State Department spokesperson said Monday he was “not aware of any confirmed travel” by the Taiwanese President, and Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said it had no information to share regarding any potential US visit.

However, regardless of the location, a face to face between Tsai and a senior US politician will most certainly draw the ire of Beijing, fueling even more tensions in already tense relations across the Taiwan Strait – and between US and China.

Defying Beijing’s threats of retaliation, McCarthy’s Democratic predecessor Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in August in the first trip by a US Speaker in 25 years.

Beijing responded by staging unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan and cutting off key lines of communication with the US.

China’s Foreign Ministry has since warned McCarthy not to visit Taiwan.

Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist with the Australia National University’s Taiwan Studies Program, said Tsai’s potential meeting with McCarthy in California is not necessarily a “replacement or downgrade.”

Instead, it could be an “add-on,” he said, suggesting McCarthy could always visit Taiwan at a later date.

While Taiwan wants to normalize high-level visits by American officials to Taiwan, it also needs to be seen by its Western partners that it is being a responsible stakeholder in the process.

“Some may think that there is better timing than this current moment to be pursing another US speaker visit to Taiwan,” Sung said.

A meeting in the US, he added, could serve as “a very visual deliverable in the short term to show continued US support for Taiwan, regardless of change of party leadership in the legislature.”

Tsai has transited in the US before on her visits to Taipei’s diplomatic allies.

She last visited the US in 2019 and gave a speech in New York – a trip that angered Beijing.

To China, Tsai’s potential meeting with McCarthy will be provocative no matter where it takes place, Sung said.

“Beijing is going to be very unhappy and protest vigorously regardless. So I guess for them it will be a difference in intensity, but not a difference in kind. Beijing won’t like any such high level exchange be it taking place on Taiwan or US soil.”