China’s U.S. ambassador doubles down on Beijing’s tough rhetoric

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The ambassador further indicated that Beijing had no immediate plans to reverse its suspension of U.S.-China cooperation imposed earlier this month in reprisal for Pelosi’s visit.

China’s anger at that visit has come at a cost. China’s Foreign Ministry responded to that visit by canceling upcoming military-to-military talks and suspending joint efforts to tackle the climate crisis and China’s role in the U.S. opioid crisis. Qin said the responsibility for repairing the damage to the bilateral relationship rested solely with Washington.

“China’s leaders in Beijing and spokesmen abroad insist that all friction in U.S.-China relations is the United States’ fault. In the telling of the Chinese Communist Party, all will be well if the United States — and all other countries — ‘reflect on its mistakes,’” said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. “Beijing’s spokespeople cannot engage in a true discussion; they can only fume … they’re not so much wolf warriors as one-trick ponies.”

Qin’s briefing was a lengthy screed on perceived U.S. transgressions against Chinese sovereignty about which he expressed personal frustration with the failure of Chinese diplomatic interventions to prevent Pelosi’s Taiwan trip.

“I tried every means through every channel possible to prevent [Pelosi’s visit] from happening,” Qin said. “To resume [normal relations] I want the U.S. to think about its wrong behavior on Taiwan, reflect on what is the true One China policy and refrain from doing anything to escalate tensions.”

Qin’s expression of personal resentment at the limits of his diplomatic influence reflects his dismay that his best efforts to derail the Pelosi trip — backed by a Chinese Foreign Ministry insistence that “the U.S. executive branch has the responsibility to stop such a visit” were unsuccessful. That suggests willful ignorance of the separation of powers between the U.S. executive and legislative branches that made such an intervention impossible.

“There’s a sense of frustration beyond words [in the Chinese embassy] that ‘How could [Pelosi] just not listen to any of the things that we said and how could the Biden administration not stop her?’” said Yun Sun, China program director at the Stimson Center.

While sparing no ire over the Pelosi visit, Qin mostly shrugged at this week’s bipartisan five-person Congressional delegation visit to Taiwan led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass). Qin limited his criticism of that trip by calling it “provocative and unhelpful.” But he sounded a more ominous note when he suggested that future routine transits of the Taiwan Strait by U.S. naval forces may provoke a response from the People’s Liberation Army.

“We have noted what the U.S. military has said about the U.S. military exercises and navigation [in the Taiwan Strait], but I call on the U.S. to refrain and exercise restraint and not do anything to escalate tensions,” Qin said. “If there are any moves to violate China’s territorial integrity, China will respond.”

That warning is notable given China’s unilateral declaration in June that it had sovereignty over the entire Taiwan Strait.

Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council’s Indo-Pacific coordinator, announced Friday that U.S. naval units will conduct “freedom of navigation” exercises in the Strait in the coming weeks.

That saber-rattling is occurring in tandem with ongoing Chinese preparation for an in-person meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia in November.

“The Chinese have already sent a delegation to Indonesia to pave the ground for the summit, so at least on the Chinese calendar, this summit is happening,” Sun said. “I suspect that under the surface, the working level communication about this leadership summit is ongoing as we speak.”

Qin denied knowledge of such preparations. “On a possible summit between two presidents, I have no idea at the moment and have no information to share with you,” Qin said.

Congressional delegations to Taiwan are likely to continue over the coming months, prompting more performative rage from Beijing and its diplomatic representatives. That means that the tone of U.S.-Chinese relations is unlikely to sweeten anytime soon barring a breakthrough during the upcoming Biden-Xi in-person talks in Bali in November.

“I don’t anticipate any deviation in this stance from Beijing in the coming months, nor does it seem likely that the Biden administration will do anything that could be construed as a concession by the Chinese, or a sign of weakness in Washington,” said Aaron Friedberg, former deputy assistant for national security affairs in the Office of the Vice President and professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

“The administration is probably especially touchy in this regard because it seemed to flinch in the face of Chinese warnings prior to Pelosi’s visit, letting it be known publicly that it opposed the trip and apparently going out of its way to try to reassure Beijing with a presidential phone call,” Friedberg added.

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