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Robert Zoellick, who also held senior US government positions in the State and Treasury departments, said ties between Washington and Beijing are “in free fall.” He made his comments at an event sponsored by the Peterson Institute for International Economics on Monday.
Mr Zoellick also warned of “miscalculations,” adding: “issues with Taiwan and others can move to a danger zone.”
Tensions between the US and China this year have soured on a number of issues including activities in the South China Sea, the COVID-19 outbreak, and human rights abuses.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month accused China of a “campaign of bullying” to control offshore resources in the South China Sea.
He said: “The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.”
Mr Pompeo has also called human rights abuses against Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province “the stain of the century”, with the US State Department claiming over a million Muslim minority groups have been detained by the Chinese government and subjected to “torture” and “physical and sexual abuse,” CNN reports.
In addition, US President Donald Trump has continually referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus” and recently said the outbreak was “China’s fault.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian this week said: “The US is entirely and solely responsible for the current difficulties in China-US relations.”
READ: Beijing blames US for no-fly zone ‘provocation’ – risked ‘unexpected incident’
Only yesterday, China accused the US of flying a U-2 spy plane into a no-fly zone positioned over live-fire Chinese military drills.
The Chinese defence ministry called the move “an act of naked provocation” and said it could have caused an “unexpected incident”.
The ministry said it has “lodged stern representations” with the US about the incident.
With this background of tensions, Mr Zoellick has said the US should consider its stance on China, noting: “It’s always useful to recognise China as it is rather than how we might want it to be.”
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He also said the US should have taken the UK’s approach to Hong Kong – granting visa’s to the region’s residents rather than putting sanctions on its leaders.
Mr Zoellick claimed: “That’s the way to show the difference between a free society and an authoritarian system.”
However, Andrew Coflan, an analyst at Eurasia Group, has criticised Mr Zoellick’s assertions.
Mr Coflan told the South China Morning Post: “It’s absurd to think the US is the only one at fault.
“Moving away from that would create so much more room for dialogue and for corporates to feel that they aren’t just becoming punching bags.”
Meanwhile, the US Navy has said a strike group composed of aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and a number of other warships and planes had entered the South China Sea earlier this month.
In a news release, a Navy commander said the group “conducted flight operations” and “maritime stability operations and exercises.”
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