Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Why Beijing doesn’t like being called America’s ‘strategic rival’

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This is the web version of Eastworld, Fortune’s Asian business and technology-focused newsletter. Subscribe here to get future editions to your inbox.

During Joe Biden’s first week as president, Beijing mostly kept the muzzle on his “Wolf warriorsThe pack of top Chinese diplomats who earned this nickname during the Trump years for their screaming denunciations of the United States. But Wednesday evening, Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to Washington, issued a warning growl.

“To treat China as a strategic rival and an imaginary enemy would be a huge error in strategic judgment,” he said on an online forum, according to Reuters. “Developing a policy on this basis would only lead to serious mistakes.”

The remarks were the first major statement by a senior Chinese official on US-China relations since Biden took office. Cui stressed that China seeks peaceful coexistence and cooperation with the United States. He urged the leaders of the two countries to resolve the differences through dialogue. But he added a blunt ultimatum: on issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity, China will not give in.

“China will not back down,” Cui said. “We hope the United States will respect China’s fundamental interests and refrain from crossing the red line.”

Cui’s statements follow a week of consistent messaging by senior Biden officials that the new administration has no intention of softening Trump’s hard line on China. New US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Friday reaffirmed in a phone call to his Japanese counterpart, Nobuo Kishi, that the United States has opposed “any unilateral attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea” and will respond to any attack on the Senkaku Islands in accordance with the US-Japanese security treaty . The uninhabited rock outcrops are controlled by Japan but claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu Islands.

On Tuesday, Gina Raimondo, Biden’s candidate for secretary of commerce, told Congress that the United States must develop a “whole-of-government responseTo combat China’s unfair business practices and pledged to use the full powers of his office to protect the US telecommunications network from “Chinese interference.”

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, Biden’s candidate for United Nations ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield assaulted China as a threat to American values. “I see what they do at the United Nations like undermining our values, undermining what we believe in. They undermine our security. They are undermining our people and we have to fight that, ”said Thomas-Greenfield. “I will work aggressively against Chinese malicious efforts in New York.”

In the interval between Biden’s victory and the inauguration, many Chinese experts spoke dazedly of a “resetUS-China relations under the new administration. The recent rhetoric of Team Biden makes it clear that not in the cards.

And in at least one respect, Beijing views Biden’s approach to dealing with China as a greater threat than Trump’s. A common refrain from Team Biden is that, unlike Trump’s Chinese policy, the new president promises to work in coordination with American allies. To the Chinese leadership, this sounds like a code for pursuing a “strategy of containment” of the Cold War in China similar to the US stalemate with the former Soviet Union. Cui warned that the United States’ efforts to build a global coalition to increase its influence over China could create “new imbalances.”

It’s easy to dismiss the barrage of indignant rhetoric on both sides as political theater. But the more it escalates, the greater the risk that one day this war of words will erupt into a very real war between the two most powerful nations the world has ever known.

To help readers visualize this possibility, WIRED This week’s magazine engages in an extraordinary thought experiment. He devoted his entire February issue to a extract of 2034: A novel from the next world war, a new book by novelist Elliott Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis. It’s fiction, but he vividly and plausibly imagines how geopolitics, technology, and human miscalculation can get out of hand – and what can go wrong when Beijing and Washington begin to cross the ‘red lines’. .

More Eastworld news below.

Clay chandler
clay.chandler@fortune.com

This edition of Eastworld was curated and produced by Grady McGregor. Reach it atgrady.mcgregor@fortune.com.

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