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China demands US 'dispel obstacles' and stop slander as tensions grow over trade, sensitive issues

Beijing

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 US President Donald Trump's claims of China meddling in the upcoming US election.

Mr Trump on Wednesday accused China of seeking to interfere in the Nov 6 US 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.

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On Saturday, China summoned the US 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" US air force flights over the South China Sea, after US B-52s flew in the vicinity of the waterway this week.

He even hinted that 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," Mr Ren said, when asked about Mr Wei's trip.

Beijing has also denied a request for a US warship to visit Hong Kong, the US consulate in the Chinese city said on Tuesday. Mr Ren said that 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 US$330 million to Taiwan, which China considers a wayward province.

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

"We advise the United States to stop this unceasing criticism and slander of China," Mr Geng said. "Stop these wrong words and deeds that damage bilateral relations and the basic interests of both countries' peoples."

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

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

"To say that this regular cooperation is China's government interfering in the US 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-US trade war.

China's Commerce Ministry said that it was "ridiculous" for the United States to think that pressure could force concessions from China, sparked by Mr Trump's blaming China for stealing US intellectual property, limiting access to its own market and unfairly subsidising 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.

Mr 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 Mr Trump planned to make the trade war "unbearably painful" for Beijing and would not back down. REUTERS