Beijing warns US against trying to contain China’s rise
Date published: 30 October 2017
Shawn Donnan and Katrina Manson in Washington
China has fired back at the Trump administration’s plans for a new “Indo Pacific” strategy to counter Beijing’s growing economic and security hold on the region, warning that the world’s two biggest powers should not be treating their rivalry as a “zero-sum game”.
Speaking ahead of a visit to Asia by President Donald Trump later this week, the Chinese ambassador to Washington warned that any US effort to contain China’s rise or intervene in the South China Sea would be viewed with scorn by Beijing.
“I don’t think it will be in the interest of any countries if their aim is to contain China,” Cui Tiankai said on Monday. “I don’t think anybody would be able to contain China . . . We don’t have a zero-sum game in the Asia-Pacific. We recognise the interest of the United States in the Asia-Pacific and we want to co-operate with the United States.”
The White House has been working for months on an Asia strategy that people involved bill as a more robust response to a China they see as a predatory economic and trade power to which past US administrations have been too willing to bend. Mr Trump next week is due to spell out more detail in a speech on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam.
In recent weeks senior US officials including Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, have been pointing to India and Japan as allies in an “Indo-Pacific” alliance as a bulwark against China in both security and economic terms.
They also are eager to counter the view that Mr Trump — with his withdrawal from the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact — has been forfeiting US leadership in the region.
In a speech this month Mr Tillerson warned that countries were being seduced by cheap loans from China as part of its “Belt and Road Initiative” that would eventually lead to Beijing gaining sovereignty over important strategic economic assets in other countries.
The US is now discussing a menu of high-grade military hardware sales to India. US defence secretary Jim Mattis spent last week on a tour of south-east Asian countries in a bid to unify the region against China.
Mr Mattis repeatedly affirmed the importance of freedom of navigation through vital trade routes and sovereignty, an indirect reference to China building controversial artificial islands equipped with military installations in the South China Sea.
But the recent US interventions have irked China with Mr Cui telling reporters that the US and other non-regional players should keep out of discussions between Beijing and its south-east Asian neighbours. China, he said, was eager to create a “community with a shared future” in the Asia-Pacific.
“I don’t think there is any evidence that China is trying to dominate the region,” he said.
Among the big issues to be discussed during Mr Trump’s visit to Beijing was the continuing crisis over North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the ambassador said, although he warned that China was already doing all it could to exert its influence over Pyongyang.
Mr Cui also said China was hoping to make progress on trade and other economic issues during Mr Trump’s visit and to have concrete measures to announce, something the two sides failed to do after a July economic dialogue in Washington.
Mr Trump has complained repeatedly about the $500bn annual US trade deficit with China and vowed to make closing it one of his administration’s top economic goals.
China was conscious of that, Mr Cui said, and shared Mr Trump’s concern, though he warned that narrowing the deficit would have to be a long-term project.
“We certainly want to have more balanced trade. But this will have to be done over time. You cannot reduce the trade deficit overnight. It is a structural problem. It is not caused by somebody’s policy,” he said, pointing to the global supply chains that now mean goods originate from many different countries.
But he also issued a thinly veiled rebuke of the bellicose language on trade employed by Mr Trump and his administration, who have long accused Beijing of unfair trade practices and waging an economic war on the US and its industrial base.
“I think when people are saying these things about China they might just look into the mirror,” he told reporters. “They might be describing themselves.”
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