[SCMP] Wang Yiwei: China takes swipes at the US but also makes ‘direct appeal’ for cooperation


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[SCMP] Wang Yiwei: China takes swipes at the US but also makes ‘direct appeal’ for cooperation


Source: SCMP    Published: 2024-03-07

Problems and mistrust still stand in the way of warmer ties between China and the US, analysts said, after stern remarks from Foreign Minister Wang Yi - including that Washington was 'obsessed' with suppressing Beijing.

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, China's top diplomat noted there had been 'some improvements' in relations with the US after a summit between leaders Xi Jinping and Joe Biden last year.

But he said Washington's 'misperception towards China continues and US promises are not truly fulfilled'.

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'The US has been devising various tactics to suppress China and kept lengthening its unilateral sanctions list, reaching bewildering levels of unfathomable absurdity.'

Washington has in recent months pushed ahead with technology-related restrictions on China and sanctioned Chinese firms said to have aided Russia's war in Ukraine.

In a reference to US curbs on China's artificial intelligence sector, Wang said 'attempts to create a 'small yard high fence' in AI would result in mistakes with historical consequences'.

That phrase was used by US national security adviser Jake Sullivan last year when talking about measures to protect Washington's technologies, including placing restrictions on advanced semiconductor technology exports to China.

Wang Yiwei, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said the Chinese foreign minister's remarks indicated that while the Xi-Biden meeting had eased tensions to some extent, 'there are still some problems' and Beijing was dissatisfied with the outcomes.

But he said even amid the 'suppression', Wang Yi also appeared to be trying to dispel the narrative that China was a threat and to push for greater cooperation with American business.

'It is a direct appeal to the US, hoping that Washington can maintain good and healthy cooperation with Beijing,' he said. 'If there is competition, it should be healthy competition.'

Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said it could also have been an attempt to get the US to revisit, or possibly lift, its tech restrictions - though that was unlikely to happen.

He expected Washington and Beijing to continue keeping tensions in check, even with possible 'complications' brought by this year's US elections.

US sanctions have restricted Chinese access to key tools such as advanced graphics processing units from Nvidia, the world's leading AI chip designer.

China's AI industry - seen as a strong rival to that of the US - is increasingly anxious about the gap with American competitors after the launch of OpenAI's Sora and ChatGPT.

Beijing is meanwhile pushing for self-reliance in science and technology to counter US moves to block China's access to cutting-edge tech, as well as to transform the sluggish economy.

On Thursday, Wang Yi appeared to be reviewing ties with the US in the months since Xi and Biden met in San Francisco in November - talks that came as the two powers were seeking to improve relations. Since then, military-to-military communication has been restored.

'If the US says one thing and does another, where is its credibility as a major country? If it gets jittery whenever it hears the word 'China', where is its confidence as a major country?' Wang said.

'If it only wants itself to prosper but denies other countries' legitimate development, where is international fairness? If it persistently monopolises the high end of the value chain and keeps China at the low end, where is fairness and competition?'

He added: 'The challenge for the US comes from itself, not from China. If the US is obsessed with suppressing China, it will eventually harm itself.'

Of the 21 questions that Wang fielded, only one was on the US but he appeared to take multiple swipes at Washington's actions on regional and global issues throughout the press conference.

China's role in the Israel-Gaza and Ukraine-Russia wars

One of those was in response to a question on the Israel-Gaza war. Wang called for an immediate ceasefire and said Beijing backed the Palestinian Authority in becoming a full UN member, but he urged 'individual UN Security Council permanent members to stop erecting obstacles'.

The US - one of five permanent members alongside China - has long used its veto powers to block actions that Israel did not support, including recent UN resolutions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Asked by Indonesian media about the South China Sea, Wang urged 'certain countries outside the region not to make provocations ... [or] stir up trouble and problems' in the disputed waters.

Beijing had repeatedly accused Washington of adding fuel to disputes in the region and undermining stability amid heightened tensions in the resource-rich waterway that China claims almost entirely.

Responding to a separate question on multipolarity, Wang also took aim at US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's earlier comment that 'if you're not at the table in the international system, you're going to be on the menu'.

The foreign minister said China believed in a multipolar world with equal opportunities, and that it was 'definitely unacceptable that certain countries must be at the table while some others can only be on the menu'.

Wu from the NUS also pointed out that Wang used parts of his briefing - both directly and indirectly - to single out Washington's actions in global conflicts and 'pinpoint US problems in international relations'.

He said that reflected how China viewed the US as its key competitor on global matters, and was also an effort to highlight Beijing's role as a peacemaker in the unfolding conflicts in the Middle East and Europe.

Following its diplomatic success in brokering a peace deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia a year ago, China has sought to portray itself as a mediator.

It has sent special envoy Li Hui on a second European tour this week, in hopes of playing a bigger role in the Ukraine war.

'It's a message to the US and the world but it is also an important message to the domestic audience that [China] is very strong. That they are not compromising with the US,' Wu said.

But even as Wang tried to send a strong message to the US on Thursday, he also stressed that the world's two largest economies needed to coexist.

He said US-China ties were 'critical to the well-being of the two peoples and to the future of humanity' and that Beijing approached the relationship with 'a sense of responsibility'.

'Peaceful coexistence is the baseline because conflict and confrontation between two major countries like China and the US will have unimaginable consequences,' he said.

'Win-win cooperation is the goal. When working together, China and the US can do great things conducive to the two countries and the world.'