China warns US against trying to contain its regional rise

Ambassador says Trump's visit to China next week offers a major opportunity

US president Donald Trump walking with President Xi Jinping of China at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida in  April.  Photograph:  Doug Mills/The New York Times

US president Donald Trump walking with President Xi Jinping of China at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida in April. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times

 

As China gears up for the arrival of Donald Trump, the country’s ambassador to Washington has warned the US against trying to rein in Beijing’s efforts to further its interests in the South China Sea.

While saying the US president’s visit, which takes him to China next week, is a “historical opportunity” to further co-operation between the world’s two largest economies, Cui Tiankai told a press briefing at the Chinese embassy in Washington that the US should not try to “contain” China.

Mr Trump will arrive in a China emboldened following a congress of the ruling Communist Party last week which saw President Xi Jinping given the kind of power not experienced in China since the days of Mao Zedong.

“I don’t think it will really serve the interests of these countries if their aim is to sort of contain China . . . I don’t think anybody would be able to contain China,” said Mr Cui.

The US has been critical of China’s militarisation of land in the South China Sea.

Beijing has claimed nearly the whole of the South China Sea, despite an international maritime court in The Hague ruling against these claims, and its stance has brought it into conflict with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

Mr Cui said Washington had no strategic interests in the region and should not interfere in discussions between China and its neighbours to agree on a code of conduct in the disputed area.

“Maybe it would be better for the US to let the regional countries . . . find a way a way of managing the situation,” he said.

China has been using its economic muscle to convince its neighbours to soften their positions on the issue. Under President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines has become far less strident in its defence of the territory in the South China Sea.

Similarly, Malaysia under prime minister Najib Razak has softened its claims, while Vietnam is drawing closer to agreement with Beijing on its territories.

Five-nation trip

Mr Cui said resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis would be the priority during Mr Trump’s five-nation Asian trip, which begins in Japan, before moving on to South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

China was doing everything it could to resolve the standoff on the Korean Peninsula, including implementing tougher UN sanctions.

“Honestly, many of these sanctions will be implemented with a high cost on China itself, because we are DPRK’s (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) neighbour,” Mr Cui said.

China believed in “the larger global interest” in the denuclearisation of the Korea Peninsula, he continued, cited by the Xinhua news agency.

This was not just a job for China, he said, but also something that required effort from the US and North Korea. A negotiated settlement was essential to avoid the situation getting much more dangerous.

Mr Cui said he expected Mr Trump to be very busy, given he was visiting five countries in the region, but he said there would be time for “top-level, strategic conversation”.

“Hopefully he will come back for a second visit,” said the diplomat.

(Additional reporting: agencies)