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    Trump alarms China with ‘Cold War’ rhetoric in State of Union address

    BEIJING — China raised alarms Wednesday over what it called President Trump’s ‘‘outdated Cold War mentality’’ after an address that described Beijing as a global rival and set an increasingly tough line against China’s economic and military reach.

    The president’s language in his State of the Union address represented a fundamental reappraisal of the US relationship with China — one that has been building for years but has crystallized since Trump took office last year, analysts say.

    Engagement — long accepted as the path to a safer world and a freer China — has been replaced with a chillier sense of strategic competition with the United States.


    On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry called on the United States to abandon its Cold War rhetoric, manage its differences with Beijing, and realize that ‘‘win-win’’ cooperation was the only viable option.

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    A Chinese foreign policy scholar called Trump’s language ‘‘alarming and provocative,’’ while state media warned that ‘‘malicious rivalry’’ and further enhancement of American military might would only end in disaster.

    But Trump’s language didn’t come as a surprise in China.

    Despite a state visit last November, where Trump gushed about his lavish welcome and his bond with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, his administration has repeatedly signaled in recent weeks a new cynicism about China’s role in the world and the threat it represents.

    ‘‘The idea of engagement has underpinned the US-China relationship for decades,’’ Bill Bishop wrote in his Axios China newsletter. ‘‘Now the US government appears to have declared engagement has failed.’’


    The change was spelled out most clearly by the White House in its National Security Strategy released last month.

    ‘‘For decades, US policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the postwar international order would liberalize China,’’ it wrote. ‘‘Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others.’’

    Among the complaints: China gathers and exploits data on an unrivaled scale, and that it spreads features of its authoritarian system around the globe, including corruption and the use of surveillance. At the same time, China is building the most capable and well-funded military in the world, after that of the United States.

    The Pentagon argued that ‘‘the central challenge to US prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition’’ by ‘‘revisionist’’ powers.

    ‘‘It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions,’’ it wrote.


    Specifically, it called China a ‘‘strategic competitor’’ using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing the South China Sea, a region where China claims full sovereignty despite strong opposition from the United States and its Southeast Asian allies.

    ‘The US government appears to have declared that engagement [with China] has failed.’

    And in a reevaluation of the economic relationship, the US Trade Representative even argued that it was a mistake to support China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, ‘‘on terms that have proven to be ineffective in securing China’s embrace of an open, market oriented trade regime.’’

    Daniel Rosen of the Rhodium Group, a leading advocate of engagement with China, calls it a ‘‘fundamental sea change in perceptions of US interests.’’

    Frustration with China for not opening its markets further to foreign firms has been building for a while, and the idea that its WTO entry might not have been well handled has been the subject of dinner party debate even among executives from multinational companies here for the past year.

    It has been further fueled by the feeling that China is walling itself off from the global Internet and trying to control cross-border data flows on which businesses depend.

    Domestically, Xi has buried the idea that a more prosperous China would ultimately become a more liberal, freer China: he has ruthlessly used the power of the state to step up surveillance and to crack down on civil society, the legal profession, and any hint of dissent.

    Abroad, Xi makes no secret of his desire for China’s voice to be heard more clearly on the world stage: his assertion of maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea and his ambition to spread Chinese influence through his global Belt and Road investment are just two examples of a more confident, assertive nation.