China demands U.S. 'dispel obstacles' to military ties and stop slander

BEIJING (Reuters) - China demanded the United States “dispel obstacles” to improving military ties and stop slandering it, amid growing tensions over trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and U.S. President Donald Trump’s claims of China meddling in the upcoming U.S. election.

Trump on Wednesday accused China of seeking to interfere in the Nov. 6 U.S. congressional elections, saying that Beijing did not want him or his Republican Party to do well because of his pugnacious stance on trade.

The two countries are already embroiled in an acrimonious trade war and have continued to butt heads over a list of sensitive issues including the disputed South China Sea and self-ruled Taiwan, armed by Washington but claimed by Beijing.

On Saturday, China summoned the U.S. ambassador in Beijing and postponed joint military talks to protest Washington’s decision to sanction a Chinese military agency and its director for buying Russian fighter jets and a surface-to-air missile system.

Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told a monthly briefing that the United States should take steps to improve military relations and expressed China’s firm opposition to “provocative” U.S. air force flights over the South China Sea, after U.S. B-52s flew in the vicinity of the waterway this week.

He even hinted a planned visit to the United States later this year for Defence Minister Wei Fenghe could be in doubt.

“The United States is to blame for the present problem, so the United States must immediately correct its mistakes, and withdraw the so-called sanctions to dispel obstacles that interfere in the healthy development of relations between the two militaries,” Ren said, when asked about Wei’s trip.

Beijing has also denied a request for a U.S. warship to visit Hong Kong, the U.S. consulate in the Chinese city said on Tuesday. Ren said he had no further information on that.

Adding fuel to the flames, China was angered this week when the United States approved the sale of spare parts for F-16 fighter planes and other military aircraft worth up to $330 million to Taiwan, which China considers a wayward province.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang attends a news briefing in Beijing, China May 25, 2017. China Daily via REUTERS


Speaking at a separate briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated a denial of Trump’s accusation that Beijing is trying to influence the U.S. congressional elections in November.

“We advise the United States to stop this unceasing criticism and slander of China,” Geng said.

“Stop these wrong words and deeds that damage bilateral relations and the basic interests of both countries’ peoples.”

Trump also said on Twitter on Wednesday that China was “placing propaganda ads” in U.S. newspapers, referring to a Chinese government-run media company’s four-page supplement in the Sunday Des Moines Register promoting the mutual benefits of U.S.-China trade.

Asked about the tweet, Geng said that such advertisements by foreign media were commonplace and allowed by U.S. law.

“To say that this regular cooperation is China’s government interfering in the U.S. elections is totally far-fetched and without foundation in facts,” he said.

The military spat and election accusation have worsened a relationship already poisoned by the Sino-U.S. trade war.

China’s commerce ministry said it was “ridiculous” for the United States to think that pressure could force concessions from China, sparked by Trump’s blaming China for stealing U.S. intellectual property, limiting access to its own market and unfairly subsidizing state-owned companies.

“I want to stress that bullying and maximum pressure will not scare China and will not cause China’s economy to collapse,” ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters.

Gao was answering a question about comments by former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who last week told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post that Trump planned to make the trade war “unbearably painful” for Beijing and would not back down.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd; Additional reporting by Yawen Chen and Se Young Lee; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Nick Macfie