China-US row escalates: Warning of ‘real danger’ of war issued as tensions explode

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Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Russell warned relations between the US and China resemble a so-called “demolition derby”, adding a war could be possible between the two world powers. The former Obama official said: “The US-China relationship is certainly in a sharp downwards spiral and it’s getting worse, worse frankly than I think I’ve seen certainly since 1989.

“In America there’s something called a demolition derby where people smash cars in an arena until there’s only one vehicle left and the goal is to damage the other cars no matter what.

“That’s kind of what this feels like. The US-China relations have evolved into a sort of grudge match.

“It’s gone from trading insults to trading blows and of course, that’s harmful for anyone’s interested both on the Pacific and the Atlantic side.”

Asked whether he sees a “real danger” of relations ending up in trading blows, he said: “Absolutely. Look, wars don’t normally happen because leaders want wars to happen.

“They happen because a chain of miscalculation brings governments to a point where they can’t stop it from happening.

“And in the case of the United States and China, the insulation of the relationship has been stripped away.”

China accused the United States of “gangster logic” on Wednesday after US President Donald Trump ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law in response to Beijing’s imposition of new security legislation on the territory.

Beijing’s Liaison Office in the Asian financial hub said the move would only damage US interests while having little impact on Hong Kong.

“Unreasonable meddling and shameless threats by the United States are typical gangster logic and bullying behaviour,” the office said in a statement.

“No external force can block China’s determination and confidence to maintain national sovereignty and security for Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability.”

The security law imposed by Beijing punishes what China broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

Critics of the law fear it will crush the wide-ranging freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, while supporters say it will bring stability to the city after a year of sometimes violent anti-government protests.

Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order to end preferential economic treatment for Hong Kong, allowing him to impose sanctions and visa restrictions on Chinese officials and financial institutions involved in the imposition of the law.

China has threatened to impose retaliatory sanctions of its own, and summoned the US ambassador to protest.

The Hong Kong government said on Wednesday it would support any action Beijing chose to take against the United States.

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“It is hypocritical for the US to introduce measures to attack China by creating issues in (Hong Kong) under the pretext of human rights, democracy and autonomy out of its own political considerations,” the territory’s Beijing-backed government said in a statement.

Four members of a pro-establishment party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, staged a protest at the US consulate on Thursday demanding the United States “stop interfering in Chinese internal affairs.”

Trump has not ruled out sanctions on top Chinese officials to punish China for its handling of Hong Kong, a White House National Security Council spokesman said on Wednesday.

Among names being pushed by some China hawks is Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who has backed Beijing’s implementation of the security law, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Separately Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law said on Wednesday he feels safe in London but described the extra-territorial reach of national security laws imposed by China as “scary”, and urged Britain to do more to help.

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