China has starkly warned the US that a "freezing wind" is chilling relations because of Washington's policy towards Taiwan, putting at risk newly-improved bilateral ties.
Washington put good relations "in jeopardy" with a string of actions this month, most notably allowing Taiwan's defense minister to attend a conference in Florida, Chinese media said.
"A freezing wind is blowing in China-US relations," warned an angry and strongly-worded commentary by the official Xinhua news agency late Tuesday.
China has been enraged by the US decision to allow Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) to participate in an arms summit last week and to meet key US officials while in the US.
The US ambassador to Beijing has twice been called in for dressings down over the issue while a state-controlled newspaper reported on Monday that China was preparing to cancel naval exchanges with the US in retaliation.
However, the Xinhua commentary used perhaps the strongest language unleashed by China on the US since relations began improving following Beijing's backing for the US-led war on terrorism.
In tone, the commentary seemed a direct throwback to the bleak days around the start of Bush's presidency and last year's crisis after the collision between a US surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet.
"Some people in the US fancy themselves smart by making use of Taiwan to contain China," the article fumed. "But they are actually coming to a dead end and will end up finding themselves stupid without gaining the benefits they had desired."
Paul Harris, an expert on Sino-US ties at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, said it was clear the commentary represented China "letting off some steam."
Tang's visit, coupled with the US nuclear review and comments by Bush making it clear the US would likely defend Taiwan had cumulatively proved too much for China, Harris said.
"The steam has been building up so much China has burst a gasket. The question is now: Will the pressure be reduced?"