China’s economic rise ‘no threat’ to US, says ambassador

  • Beijing’s Washington envoy Qin Gang tells US-China Policy Foundation the two countries should seek consensus to get relations back on track
  • Chinese goal is to meet people’s aspiration for a better life, not to enter a win-lose competition with any country, he tells virtual event

Beijing’s envoy to the United States on Tuesday maintained that China’s economic rise did not constitute a threat to the US, urging the two countries to seek consensus and get strained relations back on track.

“China’s development [goal] is to meet the people’s aspiration for a better life, not to enter into a win-lose competition with any country,” Qin Gang said at a virtual event hosted by the US-China Policy Foundation (USCPF), the Washington-based group dedicated to improving US-China relations.

“In fact, China’s sustained and stable development is not a threat to the United States,” said Qin, who took up his Washington post in July. “It is a major opportunity, and a benefit.”

Qin’s appeal to his US counterparts comes as relations between Washington and Beijing remain at historic lows, even as the two capitals have found common ground on some issues like climate change.

A sanctioning blitz in recent weeks has seen the US blacklist Chinese officials and tech companies over Beijing’s treatment of ethnic minority groups in the Xinjiang region, and sanction officials for undermining democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.

Beijing responded on Tuesday, announcing sanctions against four members of a US governmental religious freedom commission, banning them from entering China and prohibiting them from doing business with entities there.

Flaring tensions in recent years have come at the expense of the “fundamental interests of the two peoples”, said Qin, who called on attendees of Tuesday’s event to seek ways to get US-China relations “back to the right track of healthy and stable development”.

A senior official in the State Department’s East Asia bureau appearing at the same event struck a somewhat less conciliatory tone, casting the US-China relationship as one of “intense competition” and the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.

Rick Waters, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told the gathering that US President Joe Biden’s administration would “continue to invest in ourselves at home to outcompete China”.

Waters added that Washington was “strengthening alliances both new and old” to “shape the international environment in a way that reflects our values and our interests” – a nod to the Biden administration’s campaign to rally liberal democracies to challenge Beijing in concert.

The Chinese government has bristled at those efforts and accused Washington of meddling in its sovereign affairs, particularly on what it considers to be red line issues such as Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Disagreements over Beijing’s policies in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region are likely to intensify in coming weeks, as forced labour legislation banning all imports from the region is signed into law by Biden.

The sweeping law, which will have far-reaching effects on global supply chains, signals the growing appetite of the US Congress for a hardline approach to challenging Beijing on its human rights record.

China is accused of subjecting Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang to mass detention, forced political indoctrination and forced labour, charges that Beijing denies.

Denouncing China’s actions in the region as “genocide” and “crimes against humanity”, the US has led a wave of nations announcing they will not send official delegations to the coming Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games hosted by Beijing.

Besides human rights issues, numerous other sticking points remain in the US-China relationship, including the continuation of trade tariffs, territorial claims in the South and East China seas, 5G technology, and accountability over the coronavirus outbreak.

“Both Beijing and Washington are pursuing policies not in their own long-term interest,” said David Lampton, director of China studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Speaking at the event, Lampton said both sides were stoking nationalist sentiments at home that will be “hard to stuff back into the bottle” and could complicate efforts to de-escalate tensions.

Other stumbling blocks in the relationship were the ongoing tariffs, inadequate crisis control mechanisms, and an “egregious” failure to work together on managing the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.

Amid the acrimony, there are signs of cooperation on certain areas, including climate action, visa access for journalists, and nascent signs of talks around arms control.

And pointing to US efforts to ramp up student visa processing for Chinese applicants, Waters on Tuesday praised the contribution that Chinese students had made to the “rich intellectual traditions and diversity” of US campuses.

Author: Owen Churchill, SCMP

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