Tough talk was seen as a remarkable about-face for Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who was known to be measured in his rhetoric, and who only two months ago expressed hopes for improved relations during one of his final talks with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken before leaving the U.S. to take his new post. File photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
March 7 (UPI) -- Recent tensions between Washington and Beijing could soon escalate to "confrontation and conflict," Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang warned Tuesday.
In his first news conference since being appointed to the office in December, Qin suggested there would be an inevitable conflict unless Washington changed its stance toward China.
"If the U.S. side does not put on the brakes and continues down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can stop the derailment and rollover into confrontation and conflict," he said, while accusing the U.S. of using sanctions and other methods to continually suppress the Communist government.
The tough talk was seen as a remarkable about-face for Qin, who was known to be measured in his rhetoric, and who only two months ago expressed hopes for improved relations during one of his final talks with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken before leaving the U.S. to become China's foreign minister.
Qin made the extraordinary rebuke amid several weeks of strained relations between the world's two biggest superpowers, also mentioning the explosive episode last month in which Biden ordered the U.S. military to shoot down a Chinese surveillance balloon after it drifted across the country for several days.
"The U.S. side violated the spirit of international law and international practice by making presumptions of guilt, overreacting, abusing force, and making use of the issue to create a diplomatic crisis that could have been avoided," Qin said.
The Chinese insist the balloon was a civilian vessel that drifted off course by accident, yet the audacious breach of U.S. airspace led Blinken to cancel a planned visit to Beijing the same week, and infuriated lawmakers on Capitol Hill who called on Biden to take immediate punitive actions against China.
Last week, the White House informed federal agencies that they have 30 days to remove TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, from all government devices amid mounting fears that U.S. secrets may end up in the hands of Chinese Communist Party courtesy of the social media platform.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan recently warned Beijing against sending weapons to Russia amid speculation that China was preparing to help Russia militarily in Ukraine.
China has so far remained on the sidelines of the war after signing a "no limits" partnership agreement with Russia weeks before the invasion began.
But on Tuesday, Qin suggested that could change in light of a new global political landscape, saying China's relations with Russia "must move steadily forward."
"China is neither the creator of the crisis nor a party to it, nor has it provided weapons to any party to the conflict, so why should China be blamed, sanctioned, pressured or even threatened?" Qin said.
Qin's comments also echoed those given by China's foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning in early February, who said Biden's approach to China was "not conducive to building trust or improving ties between our two countries, nor can it make the U.S. safer."
In late February, China proposed a 12-point peace plan that gained little ground with NATO allies who claimed the cease-fire arrangement was too soft on Russia.
"It is regrettable that efforts to persuade and promote talks have been undermined," Qin said, "as if an invisible hand is pushing the conflict to escalate, taking advantage of the Ukrainian crisis to achieve certain geopolitical intentions."
Qin's comments also came one day after Chinese President Xi Jinping blasted Washington for the souring state of diplomacy while vowing Beijing would seek to balance the stakes in the future.
"Western countries led by the United States have implemented all-round containment, encirclement and suppression of China, which has brought unprecedented severe challenges to our country's development," Xi said in a speech during the annual meeting of Communist Party lawmakers, whose leadership is expected to be fully rearranged in the coming days to ensure Xi's grip on power.
"Containment and suppression will not make America great. It will not stop the rejuvenation of China," Qin vowed.
Qin said the issue of Taiwan remains key to resolving the growing international rift, saying U.S. military support of the democratic island territory has become the most serious threat to Chinese sovereignty.
Relations between the U.S. and China have fallen to their lowest point in years, with China's aggressive stance toward Taiwan looming as a potential flashpoint.
Last August, China reacted furiously to a Taipei visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, launching large-scale live-fire exercises in the waters and airspace around the island in response.
Biden has also prompted denunciations from Beijing by saying that U.S. forces would defend Taiwan militarily against an attempted invasion by China, an assertion he has made several times so far throughout his administration.
China views the self-governing island of 23 million as a wayward province that it has vowed to retake by force, if necessary.
"The U.S. bears unshirkable responsibility for the creation of the Taiwan issue," Qin said Tuesday.
A week ago, three U.S. House panels held hearings to examine the increasing national security threat posed by China, as well as China's emerging influence on the world stage in science and technology.
At a highly anticipated meeting before the opening of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia last November, Biden and Xi pledged their willingness to mend relations that had grown sour due to tensions over Taiwan, trade, and Beijing's deepening ties with Russia amid the war in Ukraine.