It is rare for senior diplomats or political heavyweights from China and the United States to face off at major international forums. And it is perhaps even more unusual for a Communist Party-run newspaper to make debates between China and foreign leaders over politically sensitive issues public.
However the official mouthpiece People's Daily yesterday reported a row between the former US Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, and Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun over the issue of whether China would have riots similar to the Arab Spring - a wave of protests in the Arab world.
The face-to-face confrontation also highlighted the two nations' divergent views on human rights, Tibet and China's territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Highlighting the number of Tibetans burning themselves to death in China, McCain warned the Chinese diplomat that 'the Arab Spring is coming to China', during a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference, which was chaired by former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and attended by senior diplomats from several other countries. Zhang, speaking with McCain on the panel, dismissed the comments about a looming 'Arab Spring' in China as 'no more than fantasy'.
The People's Daily described the confrontation as being 'full of gunpowder smell', and said McCain was 'aggressive' in the debate.
'China has implemented different policies from those implemented in the West Asian and North African nations. China is different from those nations because the policies and governance of the country have the overwhelming support of the people,' the People's Daily quoted Zhang as saying in response to a question over the situation in the Arab world.
Zhang said the Chinese government enjoys popular support of over 70 per cent, topping the global list in a Western survey, though he did not specify the source of the report.
Overseas media also reported that McCain expressed his concern over Tibetans burning themselves to death because of China's continued repression. During the past year, more than a dozen Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns have self-immolated in protests seeking a return of the exiled Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet. McCain also went on to criticise the Chinese navy's 'aggressive behaviour' in international waters, especially in the South China Sea.
The People's Daily quoted Zhang condemning interference in China's internal affairs.
Separately, the People's Liberation Army Daily warned of the 'increasing infiltration of rotten thoughts' from the West. The newspaper also called for awareness of 'hostile forces' in the West towards China's rise.
But analysts said the PLA Daily's stance was part of an attempt to position military politics at the forefront of China's critical leadership transition, which will begin later this year.
The number of so-called 'mass incidents' of social unrest believed to occur on the mainland every year