White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the United States does not seek conflict with China, after the United Nations chief raised concerns about a potential new Cold War between the two major powers.
Psaki was responding to Antonio Guterres, the U.N. Secretary-General, who recently implored the two countries to repair their “completely dysfunctional” relationship and avoid “at all costs” a Cold War that he said could spill damage to other parts of the world.
Guterres believes the two countries should be cooperating on climate and vaccination, and engage in “serious negotiation” on trade and technology, even if tensions persist over human rights and sovereignty in the South China Sea.
“Unfortunately, today we only have confrontation,” he told The Associated Press on Sept. 18 ahead of an annual U.N. gathering of world leaders. He said such confrontation could divide the world, with the United States and China creating “two sets of rules, two internets, two strategies and artificial intelligence.”
Psaki on Monday said that a Cold War with China is “not the objective or the policy of the United States.”
“The president’s view and this administration’s view, is that our relationship with China is one not of conflict, but of competition. And so we wouldn’t agree with the characterization of the relationship,” she told reporters at a regular press conference.
“While we may take issue with some means they engage in the world, we also have areas we will want to continue to work together,” she said, adding that President Joe Biden will have a meeting with the U.N. head later in the evening.
Biden, in his upcoming speech before U.N. Assembly on Tuesday, will “make absolutely clear that he is not looking to pursue a future, a new Cold War with any country in the world,” Psaki said.
She cited Biden’s recent phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, where Biden discussed guardrails “to ensure competition does not veer into conflict,” according to a White House statement at the time.
“It was a conversation that was candid, but it was certainly not elevated,” Psaki said.
Beijing’s much lengthier version of the 90-minute call showed that Xi blamed the United States’ recent policies for straining bilateral ties, and made future dialogue conditional upon “respecting each other’s core interests.” While the Chinese readout did not elaborate on the specifics, Beijing has previously outlined a list of demands the United States should fulfill in exchange for the regime’s cooperation.
In a virtual meeting on Sept. 2, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi told U.S. climate envoy John Kerry “China-U.S. climate cooperation cannot be separated from the wider environment of the Sino-U.S. relations.” That requires the United States to dial down on criticism over China’s handling of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, according to Wang.
Last week, Beijing accused the United States, together with the U.K. and Australia, of having a “Cold War zero-sum mentality,” when the three countries announced a new trilateral security alliance to foster a free and open Indo-Pacific region. In a press briefing held on Sept. 16, Psaki similarly said the administration welcomes “stiff competition” but “do not seek conflict” with China, adding “we’re committed to maintaining an open, high-level dialogue between the leaders.”