The United States defence secretary, Mark Esper, has cast China as a rising threat to world order – eliciting a strong response from Beijing which accused Washington of engaging in a “smear campaign” against it.
Esper used an address at the 2020 Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday to give a comprehensive condemnation of China that he said topped the Pentagon’s list of potential adversaries, followed by Russia and “rogue states” such as North Korea and Iran.
“They have said that by 2035, the PRC intends to complete its military modernisation, and, by 2049, it seeks to dominate Asia as the pre-eminent global military power,” he said, using the initials of China’s official name, People’s Republic of China.
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Esper alleged that China represses its people and threatens its neighbours, accusing it of stealing Western know-how and seeking an “advantage by any means and at any cost”.
“We want China to behave like a normal country,” Esper said, adding “and that means the Chinese government needs to change its policies and behaviours.”
“The Chinese Communist Party is heading even faster and further in the wrong direction – more internal repression, more predatory economic practices, more heavy-handedness, and most concerning for me, a more aggressive military posture,” he said.
He also accused Beijing of deploying a “nefarious strategy” through the telecommunications firm, Huawei.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking at the conference later in the day, dismissed the US criticisms, and accused Washington of engaging in a “smear campaign” against Beijing.
Wang said that Esper’s comments about Beijing’s intentions were “not based on facts”.
“I can categorically say that all accusations against China are lies,” Wang said, adding: “But if we replace the subject of the lie from China to America, maybe those lies become facts.”
Pompeo’s remarks on the West
Separately, speaking at the same conference, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reassure European leaders that President Donald Trump’s foreign policy and “America first” rhetoric does not mean the West is weakening.
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