The United States should change its “distorted” attitude toward China or risk “conflict and confrontation,” said the country’s foreign minister, who defended China’s stance on the war in Ukraine and close ties with Russia on Tuesday.

The U.S. has been engaging in suppression and containment of China rather than fair, rule-based competition, Foreign Minister Qin Gang told a news conference on the sidelines of an annual parliament meeting in Beijing.

Qin warned that Beijing and Washington are headed for “conflict and confrontation” if the U.S. doesn’t change course, striking a combative tone at a moment when relations between the rivals are at a historic low.

In his first news conference since taking office late last year, Qin warned that Washington’s China policy has “entirely deviated from the rational and sound track.” He spoke to journalists at the annual meeting of China’s legislature, where leaders lay out priorities for the coming year.

Relations between the two superpowers have been tense for years over a number of issues, including Taiwan, trade and more recently the war in Ukraine. But they worsened last month after the United States shot down a balloon off the U.S. east coast that it says was a Chinese spying craft.

‘Distorted’ view of China

“The United States’s perception and views of China are seriously distorted,” said Qin, a trusted aide to President Xi Jinping and until recently China’s ambassador in Washington.

The Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. VP Joe Biden in front of flags.
Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with then-U.S. vice-president Joe Biden inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Dec. 4, 2013. (Reuters/Lintao Zhang)

“It regards China as its primary rival and the most consequential geopolitical challenge. This is like the first button in the shirt being put wrong.”

The U.S. says it is establishing guardrails for relations and is not seeking conflict, but Qin said what that meant in practice was that China was not supposed to respond with words or action when slandered or attacked.

“That is just impossible,” Qin told his first news conference since becoming foreign minister in late December.

Qin’s comments struck the same tough tone as his predecessor, Wang Yi, now China’s most senior diplomat after being made director of the Foreign Affairs Commission Office at the turn of the year.

China warns: hit brakes or crash

“If the United States does not hit the brakes, and continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailment, which will become conflict and confrontation, and who will bear the catastrophic consequences?”

U.S. officials often speak of establishing guardrails in the bilateral relationship to prevent tensions from escalating into crises.

WATCH | U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warns China not to supply Russia with arms:

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The U.S. is warning China not to send weapons to Russia to bolster its war in Ukraine amid concerns U.S.-China tensions could spark another Cold War.

Qin likened Sino-U.S. competition to a race between two Olympic athletes.

“If one side, instead of focusing on giving one’s best, always tries to trip the other up, even to the extent that they must enter the Paralympics, then this is not fair competition,” said Qin.

“Such competition is a reckless gamble, with the stakes being the fundamental interests of the two peoples and even the future of humanity.”

During a nearly two-hour news conference in which he answered questions submitted in advance, Qin made a robust defence of “wolf warrior diplomacy,” an assertive and often abrasive stance adopted by China’s diplomats since 2020.

“When jackals and wolves are blocking the way, and hungry wolves are attacking us, Chinese diplomats must then dance with the wolves and protect and defend our home and country,” he said.

‘Invisible hand’ escalating Ukraine war

Qin also said that an “invisible hand” was pushing for the escalation of the war in Ukraine “to serve certain geopolitical agendas,” without specifying who he was referring to. He reiterated China’s call for dialogue to end the war.

In response, Russia said on Tuesday that the United States was driving the war in Ukraine, saying China’s foreign minister was joking when he said an “invisible hand” was to blame.

In effusive comments on China’s stature in world affairs, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged Qin’s comment that the Ukraine crisis seemed to be driven by an invisible hand, pushing to extend and escalate the conflict and using it “to serve certain geopolitical agendas.”

“This is of course a joke. You know what the joke is: this is not an invisible hand, this is the hand of the United States of America, this is the hand of Washington,” Peskov told reporters.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly walks and talks with Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko on Feb. 15, 2023.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly talks with Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko on Feb. 15, 2023. (Jean-Francois Benoit/CBC)

China struck a “no-limits” partnership with Russia last year, weeks before its invasion of Ukraine, and China has blamed NATO expansion for triggering the war, echoing Russia’s complaint.

China has declined to condemn the invasion and has fiercely defended its stance on Ukraine, despite Western criticism of its failure to single Russia out as the aggressor.

Close ties with Russia

China has also vehemently denied U.S. accusations that it has been considering supplying Russia with weapons.

Qin said China had to advance its relations with Russia as the world becomes more turbulent and close interactions between President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, anchored the neighbours’ relations.

He did not give a definite answer when asked if Xi would visit Russia after China’s parliamentary session, which goes on for one more week.

Since Russia invaded its southwestern neighbour a year ago, Xi has held talks several times with Putin, but not with his Ukrainian counterpart.

This undermines China’s claim of neutrality in the conflict, Kyiv’s top diplomat in Beijing said last month.

Asked whether it was possible that China and Russia would abandon the U.S. dollar and euro for bilateral trade, Qin said countries should use whatever currency was efficient, safe and credible.

China has been looking to internationalize its currency, the yuan, which gained popularity in Russia last year after Western sanctions shut Russia’s banks and many of its companies out of the dollar and euro payment systems.

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