World

China’s foreign minister has warned of likely conflict should the US continue its “reckless” approach to relations with Beijing.

Qin Gang said rising tensions between the two powers were the fault of Washington, with last month’s downing of a suspected surveillance balloon the latest flashpoint.

The mysterious reconnaissance aircraft was taken out on the orders of President Joe Biden, after it was spotted travelling across the US.

Speaking at his first news briefing in his role, on the sidelines of an annual legislative meeting in Beijing, Mr Qin said America’s handling of the incident had “created a diplomatic crisis that could have been avoided”.

He accused the US of attempting to suppress and contain China, rather than compete, which he described as a “reckless gamble” that puts global security at risk.

“If the United States does not hit the brake, and continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailment, which will become conflict and confrontation,” he said.

“And who will bear the catastrophic consequences?”

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0:45

China surveillance programme ‘unacceptable’

On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping blamed the West for the difficulties faced by the country’s economy, saying: “Led by the United States, the West has implemented all-round containment to suppress China, bringing unprecedented challenges to China’s development.”

Mr Biden’s administration has taken a tough stance on Xi’s regime, including its relationship with Russia and claims over Taiwan, which fears an invasion in the coming years.

Last month, US secretary of state Antony Blinken warned there will be “consequences” if Beijing gives weapons to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine – and Mr Biden has vowed to “defend Taiwan” in the event of a Chinese invasion.

Mr Qin denied arms had been sent to Moscow, and insisted China remains prepared to take necessary measures to achieve “reunification” with Taiwan, despite the island nation rejecting its sovereignty claim.

‘Cold war style’ blocs are becoming more of a reality

It’s important to remember how carefully curated “press conferences” with senior Chinese officials are.

The questions are all pre-agreed with nothing particularly hard-hitting ever making it through selection, and the answers are largely scripted.

Many foreign journalists based in Beijing weren’t even invited.

Seen through this lens, today’s event should be understood as the new foreign minister making a mission statement of sorts, laying out the messages he wanted the world to take away.

He spoke at length about deteriorating relations with America, laying blame for the tensions firmly at the US’s door.

His words will have been intentionally strong.

He described America as demonstrating a “hysterical new McCarthyism” in its approach to China and warned that unless the US “hits the brakes,” no amount of effort will “prevent derailing and there will surely be conflict”.

On both fronts this language is new and no doubt designed to issue the strongest of warnings.

He also addressed the American accusation that China may be preparing to sell arms to Russia to aid in its fight in Ukraine.

He’s the most senior Chinese official to do so.

Up until now, China has trodden a careful path on the conflict never overtly condemning or condoning the war while quietly providing aid to the Russians.

Mr Qin argued that China should be seen as a peacemaker as, unlike many in the West, it “has not provided arms” to either side.

But “has not” is not the same as “will not” and that important distinction will not have gone unnoticed.

It is also worth pointing out that within a carefully managed agenda, a question from a Russian reporter about the China / Russia friendship was selected third and warmly answered.

In all, it’s hard not to see today’s performance as laden with signs that the issues between China and the West are becoming increasingly intractable and that the ‘cold war style’ blocs China professes to reject are becoming more of a reality.

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3:31

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The minister claimed the war in Ukraine – which some analysts suggested may have deterred China from a similar attempt to invade Taiwan – was being driven by an “invisible hand” to serve “certain geopolitical agendas”.

“Conflict, sanctions, and pressure will not solve the problem,” he said, and called for peace talks to begin.

Beijing’s foreign ministry unveiled a 12-point plan to end the war to mark its first anniversary on 24 February, but continues to avoid condemning Russia or describing the conflict as an “invasion”.

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