China urges Washington to stop 'demonising' it during US official visit

The standstill in US-China relations was due to some people in the United States treating China as an "imaginary enemy". PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - Beijing urged the US to stop "demonising" China during Monday (July 26) talks with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the highest-level official to visit under President Joe Biden's administration.

Ms Sherman arrived in the city of Tianjin on Sunday, aiming to seek "guardrails" as ties between the world's top two economies continue to deteriorate on a range of issues from cybersecurity to human rights.

"The hope may be that by demonising China, the US could somehow... blame China for its own structural problems," Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Xie Feng told Ms Sherman, in a readout issued by China's foreign ministry.

"We urge the United States to change its highly misguided mindset and dangerous policy," the statement quoted Mr Xie as saying, adding that Washington views China as an "imagined enemy".

Mr Xie also described relations as at a "stalemate" and facing "serious difficulties."

He claimed that Chinese people view the US' "adversarial rhetoric as a thinly veiled attempt to contain and suppress China", in comments reminiscent of the fiery March exchange between Washington and Beijing's top diplomats Antony Blinken and Mr Yang Jiechi in Alaska.

Ms Sherman will also meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

She tweeted Sunday that she had spoken with US businesses about "the challenges they're facing in China", and also sent her "heartfelt condolences" to flood victims in Henan province.

The US said last week it was hoping to use the "candid" talks as an opportunity to show Beijing "what responsible and healthy competition looks like", but wanted to avoid the relationship veering into "conflict".

The July 25-26 trip is shorn of the trappings of a full-fledged official visit.

Ms Sherman will not go to Beijing, but instead spend two days starting Sunday in Tianjin, a north-eastern port city.

The visit is widely viewed as a preparatory step for an eventual meeting between Mr Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, as US-China ties continue their freefall with little sign of improvement.

A day prior to Ms Sherman landing in China, Foreign Minister Wang Yi vowed to "teach the US a lesson" in treating other countries equally, foreshadowing a rocky start to talks.

"China will not accept any country's self-proclaimed superiority," he was quoted as saying in a foreign ministry statement Saturday.

Mr John Kerry, the former secretary of state turned US climate envoy, is the only other senior official from the Biden administration to have visited China back in April.

The two sides pledged to cooperate on climate change, despite their numerous differences.

Mr Biden has largely kept the hawkish stance on China of his predecessor, Mr Donald Trump, as Washington has sought to build a united front of democratic allies against Beijing.

Last week, China and the US traded sanctions over Beijing's repression of freedoms in Hong Kong, in the latest round of an ongoing tit-for-tat saga that has targeted individuals including US former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Washington last week issued an advisory warning to businesses operating in Hong Kong over its deteriorating autonomy.

The US also rallied allies including Nato for a rare joint condemnation last week of alleged large-scale cyber attacks coming from China.

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