Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang warned on Tuesday that Beijing and Washington were headed for “conflict and confrontation” if the US does not change course.
The minister struck a combative tone at a moment when relations between the rivals are at a historic low.
In his first news conference since taking office late last year, Mr Qin’s harsh language appeared to defy predictions that China might abandon its aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy in favour of more moderate rhetoric as the two countries face off over trade and technology, Taiwan, human rights and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Washington’s China policy has “entirely deviated from the rational and sound track”, Mr Qin told journalists on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China’s legislature, when leaders lay out their economic and political priorities for the coming year.
“If the United States does not hit the brake, but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing and there surely will be conflict and confrontation,” said Mr Qin, whose new position is junior to the Communist Party’s senior foreign policy official, Wang Yi.
“Such competition is a reckless gamble, with the stakes being the fundamental interests of the two peoples and even the future of humanity.”
Mr Qin’s comments echoed remarks made by President Xi Jinping in a speech Monday to legislators.
“Western countries led by the United States have implemented all-round containment, encirclement and suppression of China, which has brought unprecedented grave challenges to our nation’s development,” Mr Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
But the White House played down the Foreign Minister's comments, saying Washington was not seeking a conflict and saw no change in US-China relations.
“We seek a strategic competition with China. We do not seek conflict,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
“We aim to compete and we aim to win that competition with China but we absolutely want to keep it at that level.”
Mr Kirby said the US appreciated the One China policy and did not want to see a change to the status quo pertaining to Taiwan, which China sees as its territory.
He also said that China should not provide military assistance to Russia in support of its war with Ukraine.
US officials have previously expressed concerns that such aid could be imminent.
China’s expansive political and economic goals and the possibility of war over Taiwan is of growing concern to US officials — and many in Washington have called for the US to make a bigger effort to counter Chinese influence abroad.
In recent weeks, concerns about Chinese spying on the US and Beijing’s influence campaigns there have drawn particular concern, and officials from the two countries have frequently traded accusations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a planned visit to Beijing after Washington shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew over American territory. The massive balloon and its payload, including electronics and optics, have been recovered from the ocean floor and are being analysed by the FBI.
Then last week, China responded with indignation when US officials raised the issue again of whether the Covid-19 pandemic began with a lab leak. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the US of “politicising the issue” in an attempt to discredit Beijing.
And the two countries have traded angry words over Taiwan as China has stepped up its diplomatic isolation and military harassment of the self-governing island.
Agencies contributed to this report