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China-US relations

US tells China: we want competition ... but also cooperation

Event at Washington embassy highlights difference in the two sides’ perspectives as senior Trump aide Matt Pottinger delivers blunt message

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2018, 3:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 8:06pm

The United States sees its relationship with China as a competition, a senior member of the Trump administration has told Chinese diplomats at an event that highlighted the gulf between the two sides’ world views.

While Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the US, used the reception at his country’s embassy in Washington to highlight the importance of cooperation, Matt Pottinger, a senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council, made America’s intentions clear.

“In the United States, competition is not a four-letter word,” Pottinger said.

“We at the Trump administration have updated our China policy to bring the concept of competition to the forefront. It’s right there at the top of the president’s national security strategy.”

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The pair were speaking at a reception on Saturday to mark China’s National Day, but Pottinger’s language was unusually direct for an event to celebrate the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The notion of freedom and competition sat “at the core” of America’s democracy and market economy, Pottinger said, adding that failing to acknowledge the competition between the two sides would lead to misunderstandings and miscalculations.

“If names cannot be correct, then language is not in accordance with the truth of things. And if language is not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success,” he said, using a quotation from Confucius.

But Pottinger also said: “President Trump’s concept of a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China also permits incredible opportunities for cooperation between our countries.”

For his part, Cui said China and the US both faced a “historic choice” about the future of their relations.

“China has already made its choice,” Cui said. “We are committed to the principle of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation with the US.”

On trade, Cui reiterated China’s assertion that it would “open its door wider to the outside world” and said China would “firmly safeguard” the international order to promote free trade.

Last week US President Donald Trump accused Beijing of meddling in the upcoming US midterm elections without initially offering any evidence for his claim.

Trump later tweeted photos of a four-page supplement published in Iowa newspaper the Des Moines Register criticising the trade war and paid for by state-run China Daily.

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On Sunday, US ambassador to China Terry Branstad, a former Iowa governor, defended Trump’s accusations, describing the China Daily advertisement as “propaganda” and accusing Beijing of taking advantage of the US’ freedom of the press.

Branstad went on to accuse China of unfair state intervention in the economy, economic espionage, and implementing non-tariff barriers that hurt US firms.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi rejected Trump’s claims during his address to the United Nations in New York, saying Beijing upheld its principle of non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs.

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In another speech at the US Council on Foreign Relations, Wang said the relationship was “easy to break it, but it will be difficult to restore a broken glass”.

Wang argued bilateral ties were at a “crossroads”, and said the US must decide whether China was “a partner or a rival”.