China’s Foreign Minister Questions U.S. Confidence as World Power

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is known for his hawkish views toward the West. PHOTO: KEVIN FRAYER/GETTY IMAGES
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is known for his hawkish views toward the West. PHOTO: KEVIN FRAYER/GETTY IMAGES

Summary

Wang Yi painted the U.S. as a paranoid superpower and criticized Europe’s policy toward Beijing as increasingly muddled during a press conference.

BEIJING—China’s foreign minister painted the U.S. as a paranoid superpower and criticized Europe’s policy toward Beijing as increasingly muddled, comments that laid bare how deep distrust persists between China and the West despite a surge of diplomacy to stabilize ties.

In a 90-minute press conference Thursday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi also warned of the possible escalation in the war between Russia and Ukraine, celebrated the close ties between Beijing and Moscow and echoed recent comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin about the risk of a protracted conflict.

Wang, a strident diplomat known for his at-times hawkish views toward the West, saved his sharpest barbs for the U.S. After acknowledging “some progress" in improving U.S.-China ties since the November summit between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in California, Wang said the U.S. was still failing to keep its promises.

“Where is the confidence of a great power if the U.S. grows anxious when it hears the word ‘China?’" he said. “The challenge facing the U.S. lies within itself and not with China. If you’re focused on suppressing China, you’ll inevitably hurt yourself."

The foreign minister also nodded to the anxiety in Beijing over U.S. restrictions on high-tech exports to China, including advanced semiconductors needed for artificial intelligence.

“If the United States insists on monopolizing the high end of the value chain, and only allowing China to remain at the low end, then where is the fair competition?" Wang said.

Despite the criticism of Washington, Wang was more tempered than in previous appearances by top Chinese diplomats. This time last year, China’s then-foreign minister, Qin Gang, was warning of potential conflict between the U.S. and China if Washington didn’t change its ways.

For one thing, U.S. and Chinese working-level officials are now finally talking again across a range of thorny issues, renewed contacts only made possible by the Xi-Biden summit.

Additionally, as China’s economy has slowed, the focus of the Chinese leadership has turned more inward as it gives priority to jump-starting economic growth.

Still, the remarks by the foreign minister on the sidelines of an annual gathering of China’s largely ceremonial parliament served as a reminder of how the world has in many ways been severed in two, as the U.S., Europe and other democratic allies consolidate their partnerships while many authoritarian countries and states in the developing world hew closer to China.

Europe has grown leery of China over trade and human rights, despite years of attempts by Beijing to woo it as a counterbalance to U.S. pressure. The European Union has called China a partner, an economic competitor and a systematic rival.

Wang likened Europe’s approach to a traffic light where the red, yellow and green lights were simultaneously illuminated. “How can the car drive through?" Wang said.

Wang’s chiding of the U.S. and Europe contrasted with his warm embrace of Russia, the Palestinians and the developing world. He said China’s close relationship and deepening trade ties with Russia were guided by Xi and “a strategic choice made by both sides based on the fundamental interests of the two peoples."

He also issued a grave warning over the war in Ukraine. “Historical experience proves that if a conflict is prolonged, it will often worsen and escalate beyond the imagination of the parties involved," he said.

Putin in late February issued an explicit warning to its adversaries about its ability to use nuclear weapons against them.

Beijing has sought to portray itself as a world power and has pursued mediator roles in both the Gaza war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But its efforts have met with little progress. China’s Ukraine peace envoy, Li Hui, has traveled to Russia, Ukraine and European capitals in recent days for a new round of diplomacy after his first trip last year was met with questions about Beijing’s ability to mediate given its close relationship with Russia.

Wang didn’t reiterate China’s harshest criticisms over the Ukraine war, that the West was fueling the conflict by providing weapons to Ukraine. On the Gaza war, he did not repeat China’s condemnation of U.S. vetoes of cease-fire demands at the United Nations Security Council.

He described the Gaza war as “a tragedy for mankind and a shame for civilization," and repeated China’s support for peace talks, a two-state solution and full U.N. membership for Palestine.

The U.S. has sought China’s help with a spillover from the Gaza war—the Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea. American officials have asked Beijing to warn Iran over the risks of a wider conflict, but Iranian officials have said they don’t control the Houthis. The attacks in the Red Sea have continued, with three people killed aboard a ship attacked off Yemen on Wednesday.

China’s foreign policy establishment has been in a state of limbo for months due to an unusual level of uncertainty over who will lead it over the long term. Wang, a veteran diplomat who was previously foreign minister from 2013 to 2022, was reappointed to the post last year after Qin was ousted in an investigation into possible national security violations. Virtually no details of why he was ousted have been released and Wang didn’t address the matter Thursday.

Analysts thought a new foreign minister could be appointed during the legislative meetings in Beijing this week, but that expectation diminished after the official agenda omitted new personnel appointments. The leading candidate to become the next foreign minister is Liu Jianchao, a former translator who had a key role in tracking down corrupt Communist Party officials abroad and now heads the party’s diplomatic apparatus.

Write to Brian Spegele at Brian.Spegele@wsj.com and Austin Ramzy at austin.ramzy@wsj.com

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