Thomas Daniel was quoted by Nikkei Asian Review

By CK TAN, Nikkei staff writer,  24 May 2020

SHANGHAI — China’s foreign minister on Sunday argued that political forces in the U.S. are pushing the two powers into a new Cold War when they should be cooperating against the coronavirus.

Wang Yi also warned the U.S. against trying to change China, defended Beijing’s handling of the pandemic and made a case for more control of Hong Kong in a news conference that lasted over an hour and a half.

“In addition to the coronavirus, there is another political virus spreading in the U.S., using every opportunity to attack and discredit China,” Wang said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress.

He claimed that some political “forces” in the U.S. are taking the China-U.S. relations as hostage and are “pushing the two countries to the brink of a new Cold War.” He said it was dangerous.

His remarks followed a report released by U.S. President Donald Trump’s White House on Thursday spelling out a “fundamental reevaluation” of relations with China, departing from previous administrations’ stance of engaging with China in the hope that it will gradually adopt Western-style values.

“China has no intention to change, still less replace, the U.S.,” Wang said. “It’s time for the U.S. to give up its wishful thinking of changing China.”

Wang stressed that the countries have different systems, cautioning that a hostile U.S. attitude would threaten bilateral cooperation and hurt America’s own development.

On the pandemic, Wang dismissed talk in some circles of holding Beijing accountable through lawsuits. China, he said, was a victim like everyone else, hinting that his country would fight what he termed “fabrications.”

“Today’s China is no longer the China of 100 years ago,” Wang said, referring to how the West forced China to pay compensation for the Boxer Rebellion in the early 20th century.

He also addressed Beijing’s draft security legislation for Hong Kong, just as protesters were clashing with police in the special administrative region.

“This law will enable Hong Kong to have a comprehensive legal system, stability, better rule of law and a better business environment,” the minister said.

Chinese lawmakers attending the annual congress deliberated on the draft on Sunday, with one official calling for “deeper integration” with Hong Kong on both local and national laws, as well as national education. Public opinion on the mainland — where any anti-government rhetoric is usually suppressed — has been supportive of the legislation.

“[Hong Kong] people are ungrateful,” wrote one social media user by the name of Xiaoqin on Weibo.

Regarding Taiwan, the foreign minister said “The reunification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is a trend of history,” that no individual or force can stop from happening.

“We advise the U.S. side to ditch its illusions and political calculations. We remind the U.S. not to make any attempt to challenge China’s red line or misjudge 1.4 billion people’s strong resolve to defend national unification,” Wang said.

Analysts at A2 Global Risk said it is common for China to use nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric to deflect criticism against the government in light of the downside risk of slowing economic growth. “As a result, the overall tenor of Beijing’s diplomatic and trade relations can be expected to become increasingly assertive and transactional.”

On maritime disputes in the South China Sea, Wang blamed rising tensions on the presence of foreign military aircraft and warships — rather than Chinese vessels. He noted that talks with Southeast Asian countries on a Code of Conduct for the sea had entered a second round of review, and that participants have reached a clear consensus on an early conclusion.

Yet experts doubt the code will be concluded even in 2021, due to the coronavirus.

“China largely controls the pace of the discussion,” said Thomas Daniel, senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia.

China, Daniel observed, has been using its trade and investment — and more recently COVID-19 assistance — as leverage against other countries in the region. “China has utilized its significant economic might, and dependence on it, to ensure Southeast Asian policymakers remain on friendly, sometimes even pliant, terms.”

This article was first published in the Nikkei Asian Review on 24 May 2020

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