China says it is not trying to ‘replace America’

Foreign minister says country is force for stability and urges swift US-North Korea talks

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi waves to photographers as he arrives at a press conference during the First Session of the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing on Thursday. Photograph: Getty Images

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi waves to photographers as he arrives at a press conference during the First Session of the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing on Thursday. Photograph: Getty Images

 

China is not trying to “replace America” and is committed to being a force for stability in Asia, foreign minister Wang Yi said, dismissing fears in the region and the West that China’s rise was a threat.

“The development and rejuvenation of China is irresistible . . . the more China develops, the more it can contribute to the world,” Mr Wang said during a news conference on the fringes of China’s annual rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC).

China would play a more important role in providing UN peacekeepers and in helping bring about dialogue to resolve conflicts, he said. “This is not only something we should do, but what is widely expected of us.”

Some western leaders and regional rivals have expressed concerns about China’s rise, as well as its militarisation. This week the NPC announced a military budget of 1.11 trillion yuan (€140 billion) for the coming year, a rise of over 8 per cent on the previous year.

“Some Americans allege that China will replace America’s role in the world. This conclusion is fundamentally wrong,” he said.

These jitters are particularly evident in the South China Sea, where the country has territorial disputes with neighbours including Vietnam and the Philippines, and has been censured by an international tribunal for its expansionist activities.

However, Mr Wang blamed outside forces who were trying to muddy the waters in the disputed region, he said, generally a reference to the US and Japan.

Regional peace

“China’s position is firm and consistent,” Wang said, adding that China was trying to find a diplomatic solution that would take into account “interests of the Chinese people, historical facts, regional peace and the international rule of law”.

He welcomed signs of easing tension in the Korean nuclear crisis, and urged the US and North Korea to hold talks as soon as possible to maintain momentum in bringing peace. “The Korean peninsula issue has finally taken an important step in the right direction,” Mr Wang said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the South Korean president Moon Jae-in have agreed to a summit in late April and the North has offered to hold denuclearisation talks with the US in return for security guarantees.

“These initial steps must be followed up by corresponding and concerted efforts by the parties,” he said.

Harm all sides

On growing trade tensions with the US, Mr Wang said China would make whatever response was necessary in the event of a trade war but said conflict between the world’s two biggest economies would harm all sides.

US president Donald Trump is expected to set tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on imported aluminium this week, to counter cheap imports, especially from China, that he says threaten US industry and jobs.

“Especially given today’s globalisation, choosing a trade war is a mistaken prescription. The outcome will only be harmful,” Mr Wang said.

“China would have to make a justified and necessary response,” he said. “We hope China and the US will have a calm and constructive dialogue as equals, and find a win-win solution.”