China’s most senior diplomat has described the shooting down of a balloon by the US as “absurd and hysterical”, as well as an abuse of the use of force.
Speaking on stage at the Munich security conference on Saturday, Wang Yi said: “It does not show the US is strong; on the contrary it shows it is weak”. The foreign affairs director said he believed the shooting down was part of an attempt to divert attention from the domestic problems of the Biden administration.
He asked the US: “There are many balloons in the sky. Do you want to down each and every one of them?”
China has insisted the balloon was a civilian non-military instrument that had been blown off course.
Wang also said China was preparing to table a position paper on Ukraine that would underline the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty. It would also state that nuclear war must never be fought, but Wang said that hyping security threats elevated the risk of miscalculation. He said China opposed the cold-war mentality and blocs.
The paper would say “legitimate security concerns had to be taken seriously”, he said, in a reference to Moscow’s concerns about the possible expansion of Nato into neighbouring Ukraine.
Wang accused unnamed forces of being responsible for cutting short previous negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, suggesting those forces had deeper motives than protecting Ukraine.
The US in particular has been pressing China to withdraw, or at least make conditional, its support for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the invasion is a clear violation of the principles of the UN charter on which China set such store.
China has refused to impose sanctions on Russia, and is increasingly becoming one of the primary consumers of Russian energy, something that helps Moscow fund its weapons production. Wang insisted China was deeply concerned by the length of the war, adding: “We do not sit idly by. We do not add fuel to the fire. We stand on the side of peace and dialogue.”
He hinted at the possibility of weaning Europe away from the US position on Ukraine. “Our friends in Europe should think calmly about how to bring peace in [Ukraine] and how to manifest its strategic autonomy.”
Wang also criticised the US ban on exporting microchip technology to China, describing it as “100% protectionism, 100% selfish, 100% unilateralism”. It was in clear breach of the World Trade Organization rules and could not be further away from fair competition, he said.
Asked if he could reassure the audience that an attack on Taiwan was not imminent, he declined, saying Taiwan was part of Chinese territory. “It has never been a country and it will not be a country in the future,” he said, and warned against outside interference in Taiwan.
“Any increase in China’s strength is an increase in the hope of peace for humanity,” he said.
The uncompromising tone of the diplomat’s remarks left in the balance the possibility of a meeting between Wang and the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, on the sidelines of the conference. A meeting planned for earlier this month between the senior diplomats was cancelled in the wake of the balloon incident, and talks have been under way to see if there is a basis for the meeting to be rescheduled.
Wang has met the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, at the conference and he spoke with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in Paris.