China’s top diplomat said that his nation and the US are heading towards conflict if Washington does not “hit the brake”.

The stark warning marks a return of Bejing’s assertive “wolf warrior” diplomacy – and continued deterioration of ties between the superpowers.

Experts were hoping that China might act to calm dangerous tensions with the US. Comments from Beijing’s foreign minister Qin Gang suggest things have just got worse.

Washington’s China policy has “entirely deviated from the rational and sound track,” Qin told journalists at an annual meeting of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, when leaders lay out their economic and political priorities for the coming year.

His harsh language appeared to defy predictions that China might abandon its aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy in favor of more moderate rhetoric as the two countries face off over trade and technology, Taiwan, human rights, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“If the United States does not hit the brake, but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing and there surely will be conflict and confrontation,” said Qin. “Containment and suppression will not make America great. It will not stop the rejuvenation of China.”

There had been hopes that Xi would reign in the worst excesses of the “warrior wolf” diplomacy, which saw Beijing’s dilpomats and state-run media response to any criticism with angry invective, culminating in the editor of the CCP’s Global Times referring to region rival Australia in April 2020 as “chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes”.

The term “wolf warrior” came from a nationalist movie starring Chinese actor Wu Jing as a maverick soldier who takes on China’s adversaries around the world.

Lu Shaye, the Chinese Ambassador to France, was also dubbed a wolf warrior diplomat. He was censured by the French Foreign Ministry for making “insults and threats” after he posted a series of tweets targeting French MPs in reaction to sanctions on China for its persecution of Uighurs Xinjiang.

And in Britain last October 2022, officials at the Chinese Consulate in Manchester, several Chinese officials, including Consul-General Zheng Xiyuan, were criticised after they were filmed beating up a protester and dragging him into consulate grounds.

On Tuesday, in typical style, Qin sought to deflect accusations of “wolf warrior” diplomacy with an aggressive counter-attack of his own. He said that “if faced with jackals and wolves, China has no choice but to face them head on”.

Tensions between China and the West – and the US in particular – have been steadily rising as US president Joe Biden belies Republican claims the administration is going soft on Beijing’s perceived transgressions.

Last year, President Biden banned imports from China’s Xinjiang region for fear that many goods there are the product of slave labour by persecuted Muslim minority groups. But more recently tensions have grown significantly worse with rows over Ukraine and spying.

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a planned high-profile visit to Beijing after Washington shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew over American territory. The downed wreckages from the huge balloon, including electronics and optics, were recovered from the ocean floor and are being analysed by the FBI.

US officials also raised hackles in Beijing further last week by claiming that the Covid pandemic probably resulted from a concealed Chinese laboratory leak. The Foreign Ministry accused the US of “politicising the issue” in an attempt to discredit China.

And the two countries traded angry words over Taiwan as China has stepped up its diplomatic isolation and military harassment of the self-governing island democracy that it claims as its own territory.

Qin – who briefly served as ambassador to Washington and gained a reputation for his cutting condemnations of China’s critics when he was Foreign Ministry spokesman – touched on all these topics on Tuesday.

Significantly, he addressed the issue of sanctions, accusing the US of unfair competition for sanctions imposed on Chinese companies. With his florid, but slightly clumsy rhetoric, he compared competition between the two superpowers with an Olympic track and field event where “one party” – presumably the United States – “is not thinking about how to run the best time, but always trips the other party and even wants to send them to the Paralympics”.

Many experts believe Beijing hoped Blinken’s planned visit might relieve pressure sufficiently to ward off the threat of further sanctions, including secondary sanctions on Chinese companies helping supply Russia with key weapons components for its war against Ukraine. But the balloon fiasco put paid to that.

In this photo provided by Chad Fish, a large balloon drifts above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet and its contrail seen below it, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. The balloon was struck by a missile from an F-22 fighter just off Myrtle Beach, fascinating sky-watchers across a populous area known as the Grand Strand for its miles of beaches that draw retirees and vacationers. (Chad Fish via AP)
A suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, before it is downed by a fighter jet (Photo: Chad Fish/AP)

Despite some speculation that the spy balloon fiaco suggests a degree of dysfunction in the Xi regime, this week’s developments suggest the paramount leader has decided to take a hard line.

On Monday, the Chinese president took the unusual step of singling out the US for leading a group of Western nations that is attempting to “contain, encircle and suppress” China.

Since assuming control of China, Xi has made several attempts to build bridges with world leaders. But these have fallen flat.

But rhetoric has been building in Washtington, too. CIA director William Burns said last month that China was the “biggest geopolitical challenge” currently facing the US.

Burns added that he knew “as a matter of intelligence” that Xi has ordered his military to be ready to conduct an invasion of self-governed Taiwan by 2027.

The comments follow the alarming prediction by a four-star US Air Force general Mike Minihan that the US will be at war with China in two years. The Pentagon distanced itself from his comments.

But it is the fear of Chinese invasion of Taiwan that gives many people sleepless nights. American officials hope to deter such aggression. Earlier this week, the US signed a new high-level initiative on defence and emerging tech accord with India as a foil to the rising power of China. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin was in the Philippines to announce America’s expanding military presence there – showing how the US is positioning itself to constrain Beijing’s ability to invade Taiwan.

America adheres to the One-China policy that recognises the People’s Republic of China as “the sole legal Government of China”.

But President Biden, through incompetence, or more likely design, has on several occasions broken protocol by stating publicly that America would come to the island’s defence in the event of a Chinese invasion.

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