BEIJING (AP) — “Both ignorant and malicious” was how the official China Daily newspaper recently described comments by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, offering a stinging insight into the current bitter tone of discourse between the countries.
The White House’s move to expand Washington’s dispute with Beijing beyond trade and technology and into accusations of political meddling has sunk relations between the world’s two largest economies to the lowest level since the Cold War.
A major speech by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Oct. 4 was the clearest, highest-level sign that U.S. strategy was turning from engagement to confrontation. Pence accused China of interfering in the midterm elections to undermine President Donald Trump’s tough trade policies against Beijing, warned other countries to be wary of Beijing’s “debt diplomacy” and denounced China’s actions in the South China Sea.
“What the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country,” Pence told an audience at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington.
Both sides are trading increasingly sharp accusations over human rights and global hegemony, exposing an ideological divide that pits the two on a path of confrontation with no clear resolution in sight.
While a military clash has not been ruled out, American-based analysts envision a continuing push-and-pull for dominance between Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, China’s most dominant — and repressive — leader since Mao Zedong. Xi’s aggressive foreign policy and authoritarian ways have altered views of China across the board.
“What has happened is a sea change in U.S. perceptions of China,” said June Teufel Dreyer, an expert on Chinese politics who teaches political science at the University of Miami. While Chinese officials privately say they’re concerned about the sharp deterioration in ties, especially given the massive links between the two in trade, immigration and education, it appears Beijing is more than willing to go toe-to-toe under the new circumstances.
Increasingly, the perception that as China grew more prosperous it would fall in line with global values and international law has been exploded. Into that breach has come hardening U.S. rhetoric toward Beijing and actions to counter, deter or defy China’s moves in the international sector, particularly its “Belt and Road” trade and infrastructure initiative that seeks to expand Beijing’s economic and political footprint from Cambodia to Cairo.
Trump’s first national security strategy, released last year, also labeled China a “revisionist power” alongside Russia.
Beijing’s outrage at Pompeo, meanwhile, was prompted by his recent warnings to Latin American countries about the dangers of accepting…