Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pictured on February 21, 2019, in Beijing, China.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pictured on February 21, 2019, in Beijing, China. How Hwee Young-Pool/Getty Images

China to US: Back Off and Calm Down

Foreign Minister Wang Yi just delivered a raw, propaganda-tainted rebuke of Washington’s leaders for stoking “fears” of China’s rise.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi sent a warning to U.S. leaders on Friday, telling them in a virtual address that their increasingly anti-Chinese words and policies “will cause chaos in the world.” 

Let's hope they were listening. The new Red Scare that American politicians have latched on to has, so far, failed to persuade Chinese leaders to Beijing to abandon their global ambitions. By the sound of it, it hasn’t even made them flinch. 

For four years, Trump’s team — led bombastically by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — worked to sell Americans and the world on China as the new immediate threat. They slammed the Chinese Communist Party leadership in what Pompeo portrayed as a battle for the soul of the world. Now, with Biden and “the blob” of foreign policy moderates firmly back in charge and striking a more hopeful and less confrontational tone, China’s top diplomat is seeking to establish a new narrative about the way ahead.

Speaking at a Council on Foreign Relations virtual event on Friday, Wang delivered an unflinching take on geopolitics that was broad-ranging, if also blatantly divorced from reality and laced with pro-Beijing propaganda.

“We do not act in a coercive way and we oppose any country doing so,” the foreign minister said. "China is committed to a path of peaceful development, one with peaceful coexistence." 

It’s hard to believe that the diplomat thought it would be well received, much less taken seriously. But to his credit, Wang gave back as good as Washington has given on issue after issue, including the latest boogeyman issue being tossed about in national security speeches and pages: Taiwan.

“Playing the Taiwan card is a dangerous move, like playing with fire," Wang said, coolly. 

Perhaps that’s because so much of Washington’s talk about China is aimed at each other, not at Beijing. There is a rhetorical civil war happening in the national security community. In the past year, it has become fashionable and easy for U.S. senators, Congressmen, and academics on Massachusetts Avenue's think tank row to shout “China!” in a bid to make themselves sound tough and make their opponents sound weak. Why? Pompeo, to his credit, helped stir up overdue attention to China’s changing ways and kill off the failed 20th-century sheen of “engagement,” as China has become less democratic and more authoritarian under Xi Jinping. But his brash talk led Beijing to dub Trump’s top diplomat a “doomsday clown,” as he exited office. He also chose to make China a partisan wedge issue at home, and as a Fox News contributor is still doing so. Some Republicans have picked up the baton, like House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who have preemptively criticized the Biden administration’s upcoming defense budget request, and for sounding weak with all this talk of competition and cooperation. 

Judging by recent events, Beijing couldn’t care less about the new administration’s new approach. Biden’s national security team in March tried to set a calmer tone at a face-to-face meeting offered to the Chinese in Alaska. Beijing bit them on the hand. Biden critics claimed it was a disastrous event for the Americans that allowed Chinese leaders to defiantly upbraid the United States on its own soil. Yet one also could say it went exactly as expected, exposing China’s leaders for their lies and propaganda while giving the United States a reset on the moral high ground. Biden followed with more tough talk in his  first press conference, declaring China would not overtake the United States as the wealthiest and most-powerful country in the world "on my watch," to which China's Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai replied, "Our goal is not to compete with or replace any other country."  

On Friday, Wang picked up where that meeting left off. He railed against the United States for stoking “fears” and offered some old chestnuts.: Stay out of our internal business. We don’t export our ideology so keep yours out of China. Our democracy is purer than America’s. The Uighurs are just being reeducated; come see for yourself. Hong Kong is ours and it’s better off now. Nobody wants war with Taiwan, only peaceful reunification. And why are you so nervous? 

With performative incredulity, Wang also claimed he has just no idea in the world why Washington’s policies and tone have changed. It’s just a total mystery to the foreign minister. The calm and confidence with which Wang was able to lie about China’s internal policies, atrocities, and basic description of its government should alarm Washington’s politicians more than they are alarmed by each other. 

“Shifting blame to others, or even decoupling from the world's second-largest economy and turning against the 1.4 billion Chinese people will not help solve America’s problems. It will cause chaos in the world,” Wang began. 

“We hope the United States will work with China to explore a new path of peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation,” he said, invoking the “win-win” spin and calling American fears “flawed.” 

“We have no intention to compete or contend with the United States,” he said. 

Wang also appeared to challenge the Biden administration’s call for the world’s democracies to unite, arguing that Xi’s government was purely democratic and locking China out of any global rule-making was unwise. 

“We welcome the Biden administration’s return to multilateralism,” he said, but it “should not be used to form new opposing blocks or exclusive circles.” 

Just two weeks ago, the Associated Press summarized how Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has followed Xi’s playbook to seal up his own dictatorship-for-life. “Under Xi, the government has rounded up, imprisoned or silenced intellectuals, legal activists and other voices, cracked down on Hong Kong’s opposition and used security forces to suppress calls for minority rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia. Xi has sidelined rivals, locked up critics and tightened the party’s control over information.”

Wang offered a rebuttal. “Recently, there has been this tendency to compare China and the United States as democracy vs. authoritarianism, to draw the lines along ideologically and pin labels on countries. But, to use an analogy, democracy is not Coca-Cola, which uses syrup produced in the United States and tastes the same across the world.” China’s government, he claimed, “is endorsed by the people. To label China as authoritarianism or a dictatorship simply because China’s democracy takes a different form than the United States, this in itself is un-democratic.” 

Meddling in China’s internal affairs, he said, “will only lead to turmoil or disaster,” and concluded with his sternest warnings of the day. “China has no room for compromise on such a major issue of principle. The United States cannot repeatedly challenge China’s rights and interests on issues related to Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong while expecting China to cooperate with it on issues it cares about.” Taiwan, he said, was China’s “red line.” 

“People of all ethnic groups, including the Uighurs, now live a safe and happy life in Xinjiang. The claims of genocide or forced labor are pure lies driven by political motives,” he falsely claimed. “We welcome American friends to visit Xinjiang so they can see for themselves what it’s really like there, not fall for lies and rumors.” 

Contrary to Wang’s assertions, read here for the reality of Xinjiang. 

Hong Kong, he said cheerily, has shifted “from chaos to stability” and democracy has improved. It has not. Beijing, he said, simply is trying to ensure “patriots” are in charge of Hong Kong anywhere else in China. 

“In other words, those who betray their own country and trumpet independence should not be allowed in the country’s governance team. And this principle applies for Hong Kong,” he said of pro-democracy advocates. 

“Some in the United States talk about China’s so-called coercive diplomacy. We hear that a lot,” he concluded. “The truth is China in history fell prey to foreign coercion and even aggression…. 

“China never threatens other countries with the use of force, build military alliances, export ideology, stir up trouble in other country’s doorsteps or meddle in their affairs.” 

That, he means, is what Americans do. China is innocent of all charges. Wang didn’t specifically mention the war on Huawei’s 5G networks, or that American businesses are being pressured by Washington to change their perspectives and relationships with Beijing. He didn’t mention recent polling showing that while more Americans are paying attention to China and more (Republicans than Democrats) consider it a threat, most do not share the same level of urgency coming from Washington. He didn’t say explicitly that Americans outside of the Beltway are thinking of China in a different way than Washington’s defense leaders saber-rattling politicians so badly want; that Americans are thinking of China more like China thinks of itself. But he noted one telling fact.

“The U.S. business community has made the clear point that it cannot afford to be locked out of the Chinese market,” Wang said. 

Neither can Washington.