China Tries to Calm U.S. Tensions After Fiery Pompeo Speech

China's foreign minister Wang Yi has appealed to the U.S. to work together to rescue a crumbling relationship, saying that Beijing and Washington should "not reject each other."

Wang hit back at the comments made last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said international engagement with China had failed and that Beijing bites "the international hands that fed it."

Pompeo's broadside, delivered at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda last month, also included swipes at Chinese "propagandists" and the Chinese government, which "ripped off our prized intellectual property."

But in an interview with the state-run Xinhua news agency, published on China's foreign ministry website, Wang said China was open to reconciliation.

China's foreign minister Wang Yi
Chinese minister of foreign affairs Wang Yi in Munich, Germany in February 2020. He told Xinhua news agency Beijing was ready for dialogue with the U.S. to curb tensions. Johannes Simon/Getty Images

"The assertion that U.S. policy of engagement with China has failed is just a rehash of the Cold War mentality," Wang said, "Both countries have benefited much from this cooperation, and no one is being taken advantage of or being ripped off."

"We are open and above board, and we are ready to enter into candid, effective consultation with the U.S. side and make cool-headed and sensible responses to the impulsive moves and anxiety of the U.S. side," he said.

"We are ready to restart the dialogue mechanisms with the U.S. side at any level, in any area and at any time. All issues can be put on the table for discussion. The development of China and of the U.S. is not a zero-sum game, and we should not reject each other."

His comments come amid escalating tensions between the countries over accusations by the Trump administration that Beijing hid the true scope of the coronavirus and the U.S. government ordering the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston.

The U.S. also objects to China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.

Zhiqun Zhu, author of A Critical Decade: China's Foreign Policy 2008-2018, said that Wang's comments were part of an appeal to the Trump administration "to return to common sense in curbing the further deterioration of the relationship."

He said that Wang's appeal for co-operation "all sounds good," but that "he will be disappointed that the Trump administration is not going to listen."

"Obviously the Chinese government is getting really concerned about the downward spiral of the relationship," Zhu told Newsweek.

"Unfortunately, at this stage, no matter what the Chinese government says or does, Trump and Pompeo will carry on their confrontational approach to China in the name of national security or reciprocity.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, July 23, 2020, in Yorba Linda, California. During the speech he was critical of China, sparking a stern response from Beijing. Ashley Landis/Getty Images

"They have a free hand and do not care how China might retaliate. Playing the China card may be the only hope for Trump's reelection," said Zhu, who is professor of political science and international relations at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said that the Pompeo speech had touched a nerve in Beijing, which was now worried that the Trump Administration might take a hardline approach towards China into the U.S. establishment.

"While China under Xi Jinping will break with the U.S. at some point, the timing is not right for an accelerated decoupling, as China is not ready for it," he told Newsweek.

"Hence, Foreign Minister Wang tried to calm the situation down and made it clear that Beijing would not like to push the relations towards a breaking point."

"It is welcome to see the Chinese government articulating a wish to lower the temperature, but I don't think this signals a basic change in Chinese policy towards the U.S.," Tsang added.