China lashed out at the United States on Tuesday, with the foreign minister accusing Washington of stoking tensions between the two powers and warning of “conflict and confrontation”.

The world’s biggest economies have clashed in recent years over trade, human rights and other issues, but relations soured even further last month when the United States shot down a Chinese balloon it said was being used for surveillance –- a claim strenuously denied by Beijing.

Beijing’s new Foreign Minister Qin Gang told a press conference on the sidelines of the ongoing National People’s Congress (NPC) there would be “catastrophic consequences” if the United States carried on in its current direction.

“If the United States does not hit the brakes but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing, and there will surely be conflict and confrontation,” Qin told journalists.

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“Who will bear the catastrophic consequences?”

The foreign minister called American competition with China “a reckless gamble, with the stakes being the fundamental interests of two peoples and even the future of humanity”.

It was “a zero-sum game of life and death”, he added.

- ‘Encirclement and suppression’ -

Qin’s comments came after President Xi Jinping slammed the United States for leading a “containment, encirclement and suppression of China”, while urging his country’s private sector to boost innovation and become more self-reliant.

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China’s technology ambitions have been hit with a raft of restrictions by the United States and its Western allies, and Beijing has doubled down on the need to shift away from imports for sectors perceived as vital to national security, such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence.

Washington has in recent months tightened sanctions on Chinese chipmakers, citing national security concerns and the risk of the technology being used by China’s military.

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In a rare direct criticism of the United States, Xi told industry leaders on Monday that “Western countries led by the United States have implemented all-round containment, encirclement and suppression of China, which has brought unprecedented severe challenges to our country’s development”.

Xi, who will be granted a third consecutive presidential term in the coming days at the highly choreographed NPC, said the past five years had been riddled with a new set of hurdles that threatened to weigh down China’s economic rise.

According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, Xi said China must “have the courage to fight as the country faces profound and complex changes in both the domestic and international landscape”, in the address to delegates at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which runs alongside the NPC.

The 69-year-old said private firms “should take the initiative to pursue high-quality development”, Xinhua reported late Monday.

Xi also vowed to bolster China’s manufacturing capacity and said the country should be able to fend for itself.

“I’ve always said there are two critical areas for China: one is to safeguard our rice bowl, and the other is to build up a strong manufacturing sector,” he said.

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“As a great nation of 1.4 billion people, we must rely on ourselves... We can’t depend on international markets to save us.”

- ‘Not a threat’ -

In a wide-ranging press conference, former US ambassador Qin also dismissed warnings from Western countries that China may supply arms to Russia for its war in Ukraine, saying it would not accept “blame-shifting, sanctions, suppression and threats” targeting Beijing.

China last month released a position paper outlining its stance on the Ukraine conflict, portraying itself as a neutral party and urging the two sides to enter peace negotiations.

Beijing’s claim to neutrality has been questioned by the United States and other Ukrainian allies, with Russia and China describing their bilateral relationship as having “no limits” just weeks before the invasion.

Qin said China was “neither a creator of the crisis nor a party to it, and it has not provided weapons to any party”, adding peace talks should start “as soon as possible”.

Beijing’s relationship with Moscow is “not a threat to any country in the world”, he said.

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Qin also reiterated the official line that China would “maintain the option of taking all necessary actions” to take Taiwan.

He warned against “underestimating the strong determination, firm will and powerful ability of the Chinese government and Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

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