BEIJING – A “political virus” is spreading in the United States, causing its politicians to take every opportunity to attack and discredit China, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday (May 24).

But while the top Chinese diplomat hit back at the US politicians who were pushing the two sides to “the brink of a new Cold War” at the risk of reversing decades of cooperation, he also struck a conciliatory tone at times, urging the Americans to cooperate with China.

“This political virus is spreading in the US, and jumping at any opportunity to attack and slander China. Some politicians ignore the basic facts and make up countless lies and conspiracy theories against China,” Mr Wang said.

Mr Wang was speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of China’s annual legislative meetings in Beijing, where Covid-19 and Sino-US ties were key areas of focus.

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Tensions between Beijing and Washington have been soaring over the coronavirus, Hong Kong’s status, Taiwan and other issues.

US President Donald Trump and other American officials have accused Beijing of mishandling the outbreak, suggesting that it had emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan and demanded a probe into the origins of the virus.

While China is open to cooperating with the international community to look into the origins of Covid-19, such an investigation should not be politicised, said Mr Wang.

 

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He also said lawsuits launched in the US trying to seek compensation from China over damages from Covid-19 have “zero basis in fact, law or international precedence”.

“If anybody thought they could use some ludicrous lawsuits to undermine China’s sovereignty and dignity, or deprive the Chinese people of their hard won gains, they are daydreaming and bringing disgrace to themselves,” he said.

On Taiwan, with which Washington recently upgraded relations, Mr Wang warned the US not to challenge China’s “red line”.

 

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But despite his criticism of the US, Mr Wang also urged both sides to “communicate and coordinate our macro policies to mitigate the impact of Covid-19” on the global economy.

 

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Both superpowers must find a way to coexist peacefully despite their differences, he said, noting: “It’s also true that we have many disagreements but that doesn’t preclude cooperation.”

Experts say Mr Wang’s comments contrast starkly to the bellicose and confrontational remarks made recently by Chinese “wolf warrior” diplomats – so named after a pair of patriotic blockbuster films.

Asked about this, Mr Wang said China’s diplomats “have principles and guts” and will push back against any insult and defend the country’s honour and dignity.

Foreign policy experts both within and outside China have criticised these diplomats, pointing out that the aggressive attitude has only served to strain ties further with the US and affected Beijing’s international image.

Associate Professor Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said Mr Wang demonstrated some restraint and made an effort not to antagonise the bilateral relationship further.

“There was some intent to balance his comments. While he was critical of the US, he was also urging decision makers in Washington to be rational and cooperate with China,” he added.

Mr Adam Ni, director of the China Policy Centre in Australia, said the “wolf warrior diplomacy” goes hand in hand with Mr Wang’s more conciliatory approach.

 

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“It’s kind of a microcosm in where we are in the world in terms of great power competition between the US and China, there is imperative to compete as well as cooperate,” he said.

Mr Wang also highlighted China’s international aid on Covid-19 and its efforts to build ties with countries in the region and beyond, including Asean.

“China will continue to view Asean as a high priority in its neighbourhood diplomacy and support Asean centrality in East Asian cooperation,” he said, adding that Beijing was in discussions to resume talks with Asean on a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

 

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