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China’s Foreign Minister Urges Cooperation With U.S.

(Bloomberg) — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged the U.S. to “calm down” and step back from confrontation, in a toughly worded speech highlighting simmering disputes between the two largest economies even as they neared a preliminary trade deal.

Wang said Friday in Beijing that U.S. actions on a range of issues had “severely damaged the hard-earned basis for mutual trust” and left the relationship in their “most complex” state since the two sides established ties four decades ago. In unusually detailed remarks for a Chinese foreign minister, Wang accused U.S. officials of “slandering China’s social system, development path and cooperation with other countries.”

“We hope that the U.S. side will promptly calm down, establish a rational view toward China and the world, and work together with China to realize a non-confrontational, mutually respectful, win-win path toward peaceful co-existence and mutual benefit,” Wang told a diplomatic conference. He blamed their tensions on what he said was the U.S. government’s flawed understanding China, and stressed the need for cooperation.

The criticism by one of China’s top diplomats underscores the strategic conflict that has widened between the two sides amid the trade war. The economic dispute has encouraged a bipartisan effort in Washington to push back against China’s expanding military and diplomatic reach and challenge its human rights practices in places like the former British colony of Hong Kong and the predominately Muslim region of Xinjiang.

Wang’s comments were part of broader speech assessing the country’s diplomatic activities over the past 12 months, and came hours after President Donald Trump is said to have signed off on a so-called phase-one trade deal with China. Beijing has yet to comment on the agreement, which people familiar with Trump’s decision said would avert the Dec. 15 introduction of a new wave of U.S. tariffs on about $160 billion of Chinese consumer goods.

The comments by China’s foreign minister will set the tone for the country’s diplomatic exchanges with the U.S. at least until the next remarks by President Xi Jinping or other top Communist Party officials. Criticism of the U.S. help give Xi political cover, as he makes concessions to a country that state-run media have increasingly portrayed as a foreign aggressor.

Signing a deal will provide Xi a temporary reprieve from his most vexing foreign policy headache as he faces a slowing economy at home and unrest in Hong Kong. Beijing faces a combination of the slowest growth in almost three decades, rising inflation driven by soaring pork prices and sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong that have raged for more than six months.

Meanwhile, the U.S. — helped along by a surge of anti-China sentiment in Congress — has expanded efforts globally to keep nations from accepting Chinese technology and development loans. Wang touted “peaceful coexistence” as the right path forward, a phrase dating back to the 1950s that also contrasts with the “strategic competitor” label that the Trump administration now uses to describe China.

Even as Trump administration officials were preparing to announce a trade deal Friday, the U.S.’s top naval commander in the Pacific highlighted that competition while accusing Beijing of militarizing the South China Sea. He noted that the U.S. military would continue to challenge what it sees as Beijing’s violations of international norms, while working together to prevent conflict.

“There’s no doubt the United States has stated we are in competition with the People’s Republic of China – we have inherent disagreements between ideologies,” Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral John Aquilino told a briefing in Bangkok. “The best way to say it is the United States will cooperate where we can and will compete where we must.”

–With assistance from Siraphob Thanthong-Knight, Davy Zhu and Penny Peng.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Sharon Chen in Beijing at schen462@bloomberg.net;Peter Martin in Beijing at pmartin138@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, James Mayger

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