China’s foreign minister says China-US relations have “seriously deviated” while warning of potential conflict.
“Containment and suppression will not make America great. It will not stop the rejuvenation of China,” said Qin Gang.
Mr Qin, China’s former ambassador to the US, held his first press conference as foreign minister on Tuesday.
The spy balloon saga has heightened tensions between the superpowers despite recent efforts to improve ties.
“It [the US] regards China as its primary rival and the most consequential geopolitical challenge. This is like the first button in the shirt being put wrong,” said Mr Qin, speaking on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China’s parliament in Beijing.
The foreign minister was responding to a question on whether a healthy China-US relationship was still possible as differences between the countries grew.
The US called for establishing “guardrails”, but what it really wants is for China to not hit back with words or actions when provoked, Mr Qin added.
He was referring to US President Joe Biden’s comments last month that the US would “compete fully with China but [is] not looking for conflict”.
Mr Qin said: “If the US does not put on the brakes and continues to roar down the wrong road, no amount of guardrails can stop the derailment and overturning, and it is bound to fall into conflict and confrontation. Who will bear its disastrous consequences?”
He also said the diplomatic crisis caused by the balloon incident could have been averted but the US acted with “the presumption of guilt”.
Washington has previously described the suspected spy balloon as a “clear violation of US sovereignty”. Beijing admitted the object belonged to them, but said it was a civilian airship blown off-course.
Relations between the two countries deteriorated during former US President Donald Trump’s administration, which launched a trade war against China in 2018. The two superpowers continue to clash on various issues, including Taiwan, China’s militarisation of the South China Sea and the origins of Covid.
Mr Qin’s comments follow Chinese President Xi Jinping’s unusually direct rebuke of the US on Monday.
Mr Xi said “Western countries led by the US had implemented all-round containment, encirclement and suppression” against China and that this brought “severe challenges” to the country.
On Tuesday, Mr Qin said an “invisible hand” was driving the Ukraine crisis but did not name any country or individual. He reiterated that China had not provided weapons to either side of the Russia-Ukraine war and called for peace talks to resume.
However, he asked: “Why should the US demand that China refrain from supplying arms to Russia when it sells arms to Taiwan?”
The Ukraine crisis has reached a “critical juncture”, he said.
“Either a ceasefire will stop the war, restore peace and embark on a political settlement, or fuel the fire, expand the crisis and drag it into the abyss of losing control.”
Mr Qin, 56, was named China’s foreign minister in December 2022 and is one of the youngest appointees to this post in the country’s history. He replaced Wang Yi, who was promoted to the politburo of the ruling Communist Party in October that year.
A trusted aide of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr Qin is well known as a tough-talking diplomat.