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AP Interview: Beijing says US 'too negative' toward China

BEIJING — A top Chinese diplomat said Friday that U.S. policy toward China is “too negative" and that co-operation could be critically important as the Biden administration focuses on combatting COVID-19 and promoting economic recovery. The U.S.

BEIJING — A top Chinese diplomat said Friday that U.S. policy toward China is “too negative" and that co-operation could be critically important as the Biden administration focuses on combatting COVID-19 and promoting economic recovery.

The U.S. appears to be highlighting confrontation and playing down co-operation, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press.

“Such an approach, I must say, is too negative,” he said, adding that it lacks “a forward-looking spirit.”

China could be a partner as Biden tackles the coronavirus and the economy, he said.

“To me it is hard to imagine the two priorities can be resolved without a co-operative and healthy China-U.S. relationship," he said.

Le also signalled that China is unlikely to make any new pledges at a climate change meeting called by President Joe Biden for next week. He spoke as Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, was discussing the issue on the second day of closed-door meetings with Chinese counterparts in Shanghai.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced last year that China would be carbon-neutral by 2060 and aim to reach a peak in its emissions by 2030.

“For a big country with 1.4 billion people, these goals are not easily delivered,” Le said. “Some countries are asking China to achieve the goals earlier. I am afraid this is not very realistic.”

Le said he had no details on the Kerry meetings in Shanghai.

Biden has invited 40 world leaders, including Xi, to an April 22-23 virtual climate summit. The U.S. and other countries are expected to announce more ambitious national targets for cutting emissions and pledge financial help for climate efforts by less wealthy nations.

Le said that China would convey a positive message at the meeting, but added that China is responding to climate change on its own initiative, not because others asked it to. On whether Xi would join the summit, Le said “the Chinese side is actively studying the matter.”

The U.S. and China are increasingly at odds over a range of issues, including human rights in Tibet and the Xinjiang region, a crackdown on protest and political freedom in Hong Kong, China’s assertion of its territorial claims to Taiwan and most of the South China Sea and accusations Beijing was slow to inform the world about the COVID-19 outbreak that became a devastating pandemic.

China hoped for an improvement in relations under Biden, who succeeded President Donald Trump in January, but the new administration has shown no sign of backing down on hardline policies toward China. The two sides traded sharp and unusually public barbs at the start of talks in Alaska last month.

Le said that after the opening of the Alaska talks, the dialogue was constructive and useful and that both sides are following up on the issues discussed.

The two countries could team up on coronavirus response, he said, but any co-operation must be on an equal basis, an apparent reference to the U.S. pressure on China on multiple fronts.

“It is not one side drawing up a laundry list of demands to the other side,” Le said. “In co-operation, one should not be selfish and care only about one’s own interests with no regard for the well-being of the other side.”

On the same day that a number of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were sentenced, Le defended China's crackdown on protest in the semi-autonomous territory. He described the convicted as rioters and said “they deserve what they got.”

He added, “I don’t think it is anything strange if Hong Kong somehow becomes more like a Chinese city because after all Hong Kong is part of China."

The U.K., U.S. and others have accused Beijing of reneging on a commitment to run the former British colony under a so-called “one country, two systems” framework for 50 years after its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

Le brushed aside such critiques, saying, “Hong Kong is always China’s Hong Kong and this is something that will not change.”

The vice minister also condemned Western sanctions against companies accused of human rights and labour abuses in Xinjiang. The U.S. blocked imports from several companies operating in the region last year, and added a blanket ban on Xinjiang's cotton and tomato products in January.

Rather than protecting workers, Le said, “the sanctions have damaged human rights in Xinjiang, resulting in forced unemployment and forced poverty in Xinjiang."

He also repeated warnings against American government contact with Taiwan, after Biden sent a delegation of former U.S. officials to meet the island's president this week. China claims self-governing Taiwan as its territory and says, like Hong Kong, it should be under Beijing's control.

“The U.S. should never try to play the Taiwan card,” Le said. “It is very dangerous. This is our red line. The U.S. should never try to cross it.”

American military officials have warned that China may be accelerating its timeframe for capturing control of Taiwan. Asked if China had a deadline, Le said only that it was a “historical process.”

Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press