China’s Foreign Minister Says Ties With U.S. Risk Going Off the Rails

In blunt briefing, Qin Gang warns Washington against indulging ‘new McCarthyism,’ defends Beijing’s ties with Moscow.

BEIJING—China’s foreign minister warned that the U.S. strategy toward China risked plunging the countries into conflict and pledged to continue responding strongly to what he viewed as persistent attacks on Beijing by Washington.

In a press conference Tuesday on the sidelines of China’s annual gathering of its National People’s Congress in Beijing, Qin Gang said the Biden administration is being insincere when it says it wants to erect guardrails around the relationship, warned the U.S. against engaging in “new McCarthyism” and praised China’s ties with Russia. 

“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,” said Mr. Qin, who was named foreign minister in late December after serving as China’s ambassador to the U.S. “Who will bear the consequences? Such competition is a reckless gamble.”

It isn’t the first time China has warned the U.S. about the risk of conflict if the countries’ relationship isn’t handled well, although Chinese officials have tended to speak more elliptically about the risk of conflict. 

Mr. Qin’s comments came a day after Chinese leader Xi Jinping took direct aim at the U.S., rebuking Washington for pursuing “all-round containment, encirclement and suppression” of China, according to remarks carried in Chinese state media. 

Tensions between Beijing and Washington have been exacerbated by Mr. Xi’s continued support for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, including after the invasion of Ukraine. While China has issued general calls for peace, it has nevertheless kept up its warm relations with Moscow and has helped blunt the edge of U.S. sanctions through robust trade ties. 

“China and Russia have found a path of major country relations featuring strategic trust and good neighborliness, setting a good example for international relations,” Mr. Qin said. “The more unstable the world becomes, the more imperative it is for China and Russia to steadily advance their relations.” 

In a press conference that ran for roughly two hours, Mr. Qin said that U.S. perceptions of China were severely distorted, as evidenced by its shooting down last month of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that had drifted over the U.S. China said the balloon was for civilian weather research but flew off course and that the U.S. overreacted by shooting it down. 

Mr. Qin’s prior post as Beijing’s envoy in Washington gave him a front-row seat to the darkening mood in the U.S. toward China. He questioned his reputation as an exponent of the biting “Wolf Warrior” style of diplomacy that has grown popular in the Foreign Ministry in recent years, though his at-times severe depiction of relations with the U.S. was in line with the country’s turn toward a more aggressive diplomatic tone under Mr. Xi.

On the issue of Taiwan, the self-governing island over which China also claims jurisdiction, Mr. Qin contrasted the U.S.’s providing weapons to Taiwan with recent Biden administration warnings that China should refrain from providing lethal aid to Russia in Ukraine. While Washington doesn’t recognize Taiwan diplomatically, the U.S. has long provided Taiwan with weapons to defend itself in event of an attack by China.

“Why does the U.S. ask China not to provide weapons to Russia while it keeps selling arms to Taiwan?” he said, adding that China hadn’t provided any weapons to Russia.

Mr. Qin reiterated China’s position that it seeks to unite peacefully with Taiwan but reserved the right to take whatever steps it believed necessary to achieve that goal.

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