China lashes out at US, warns of 'conflict and confrontation'

China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang holds a copy of China's constitution during a press conference at the Media Center of the National People's Congress in Beijing on 7 March, 2023AFP

China lashed out at the United States on Tuesday,accusing Washington of stoking tensions between the two powers and warning of "conflict and confrontation".

Beijing's new foreign minister Qin Gang told a press conference on the sidelines of the ongoing National People's Congress (NPC) there would be "catastrophic consequences" if the United States carried on in its current direction.

"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 told journalists.

The foreign minister called American competition with China "a reckless gamble, with the stakes being the fundamental interests of two peoples and even the future of humanity".

It was "a zero-sum game of life and death", he added.

Competition, not conflict

In response Washington denied it is seeking conflict with Beijing and stressed the relationship was one of "strategic competition."

"With all due respect to the Chinese foreign minister, there is no change to the United States posture when it comes to this bilateral relationship," said White House national security spokesman John Kirby.

"There is nothing about our approach to this most consequential bilateral relationship that should lead anybody to think that we want conflict," he said.

"We aim to compete, and we aim to win that competition with China, but we absolutely want to keep it at that level," he said.

'Encirclement and suppression'

The world's biggest economies have clashed in recent years over trade, human rights and other issues, but relations soured even further last month when the United States shot down a Chinese balloon it said was being used for surveillance -- a claim strenuously denied by Beijing.

Qin's comments came after president Xi Jinping slammed the United States for leading an effort of "containment, encirclement and suppression of China", while urging his country's private sector to boost innovation and become more self-reliant.

China's technology ambitions have been hit with a raft of restrictions by the United States and its Western allies, and Beijing has doubled down on the need to shift away from imports for sectors perceived as vital to national security, such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence.

Washington has in recent months tightened sanctions on Chinese chipmakers, citing national security concerns and the risk of the technology being used by China's military.

Xi, who will be granted a third consecutive presidential term in the coming days at the highly choreographed NPC, said the past five years had been riddled with a new set of hurdles that threatened to weigh down China's economic rise.

According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, Xi said China must "have the courage to fight as the country faces profound and complex changes in both the domestic and international landscape", in the address to delegates at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which runs alongside the NPC.

The 69-year-old said private firms "should take the initiative to pursue high-quality development", Xinhua reported late Monday.

Xi also vowed to bolster China's manufacturing capacity and said the country should be able to fend for itself.

"I've always said there are two critical areas for China: one is to safeguard our rice bowl, and the other is to build up a strong manufacturing sector," he said.

"As a great nation of 1.4 billion people, we must rely on ourselves... We can't depend on international markets to save us."

'Not a threat'

Qin, the former Chinese ambassador in Washington, also dismissed warnings from Western countries to not supply arms to Russia for its war in Ukraine.

He said China would not accept "blame-shifting, sanctions, suppression and threats" targeting Beijing.

IN an official position paper last month on the Ukraine war, China portrayed itself as neutral and urged the two sides to enter peace negotiations.

While Beijing's claim to neutrality has been questioned by the United States and other Ukraine allies, Qin said China was "neither a creator of the crisis nor a party to it, and it has not provided weapons to any party."

He added that peace talks should start "as soon as possible" and said Beijing's relationship with Moscow is "not a threat to any country in the world."

Qin also reiterated the official line that China would "maintain the option of taking all necessary actions" to take Taiwan.

He warned against "underestimating the strong determination, firm will and powerful ability of the Chinese government and Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity".