Wang Yi speaks during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on Saturday. AFP
China's top diplomat Wang Yi on Saturday blasted the US reaction to what Washington has called a Chinese spy balloon as "hysterical and absurd," in uncharacteristically strong remarks against the top Western power.
Addressing a gathering of world leaders at the Munich Security Conference, Wang said President Joe Biden's administration has a "misguided" perception of Beijing. And he accused the United States of trying to "smear" the Asian giant while it itself was implementing policies that ran counter to its paradigms such as free trade. "There are many balloons from many countries in the sky. Do you want to down each and every one of them?" Wang asked.
"We urge the United States not to do such preposterous things simply to divert attention from its own domestic problems."
Washington has been in a state of alarm since a huge white balloon from China was spotted over a series of top secret nuclear weapons sites, before being shot down just off the east coast on Feb.4. Beijing denies it uses spy balloons and says the craft was for weather research. Subsequently it accused Washington of sending its own espionage balloons over its territory -- which the US has denied.
The spat led US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to abruptly cancel a rare visit to China. With Blinken also in Munich, all eyes are on whether both sides succeed in setting up a meeting. But asked if he was planning a huddle with the US delegation, Wang reacted combatively.
Washington, he said, had the wrong view of China as a serious geopolitical challenge and a threat to the United States.
"This is a misguided perception of China and with this perception, the United States is using all of its means to smear and clamp down China, and is co-opting other countries to do the same," he said.
Wang accused the US instead of "100 per cent protectionism, 100 per cent self-servingness, 100 per cent unilateral action" in its own economic policies like the Chips Act.
He added that he hoped Washington would "take a pragmatic and proactive attitude" towards China and restore relations to a "track of sound development".
'Don't make same mistake'
After four years of antagonistic relations with China under his predecessor Donald Trump, President Biden has made a priority of resetting relations with Beijing -- which he describes as Washington's biggest competitor. But tensions flared last year after Nancy Pelosi, then leader of the US House of Representatives, visited Taiwan — the self-governing democratic island claimed by Beijing.
That project may be tested again soon, with a high-level Pentagon official arriving in Taiwan for a visit, according to a Financial Times report on Friday.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has also led Western powers to cast a wary eye on the relations between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping -- who call each other "friends".
Also in Munich, US Vice President Kamala Harris underlined how the US was "troubled that Beijing has deepened its relationship with Moscow since the war began".
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said, "Beijing is watching closely to see the price Russia pays, or the reward it receives for its aggression.
"What is happening in Europe today could happen in East Asia tomorrow," he warned.
Stoltenberg also said Moscow's incursion has exposed the dangers of Europe's over-reliance on authoritarian regimes and should serve as a lesson as the continent orientates relations with Beijing.
"We should not make the same mistake with China and other authoritarian regimes," he cautioned.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the Munich gathering that China "represents a systemic challenge to our values and our interest" and that he would not shy away from taking action to protect Britain.
"We'll do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves and engage with China on trying to resolve some of these pressing problems where we can."
The White House summoned China's ambassador, Qin Gang, late on Thursday to tell him that the military actions were of "concern to Taiwan, to us and to our partners around the world," said spokesman John Kirby.
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