Moderates who favour dialogue and cooperation as a way to resolve China’s disputes with the United States are losing ground to hardline groups bent on taking the fight to Washington, according to political insiders and observers. “There are two camps in China,” said a former state official who now serves as a government adviser and asked not to be named. “One is stressing the combat spirit, the other is trying to relieve tensions. And the former has the upper hand.” Relations between China and the US are under intense pressure. After Beijing moved to introduce a national security law for Hong Kong , US President Donald Trump said on Friday that Washington would begin eliminating the special policy exemptions it grants the city, as it no longer considers it autonomous from mainland China. The two nations have also clashed over trade, Xinjiang, Taiwan and the South China Sea , with the US passing several acts denouncing Beijing and sanctioning Chinese officials. China has also experienced turbulence in its relations with other countries, including Australia and members of the European Union, mostly related to the Covid-19 pandemic and Beijing’s efforts to position itself as a leader in the fight against the disease with its policy of “mask diplomacy”. After Canberra appealed for an independent investigation to be carried out to determine the origins of the coronavirus, Beijing responded by imposing tariffs on imports of Australian barley, showing it is prepared to do more than just trade insults and accusations with its adversaries. Pang Zhongying, a professor of international relations at Ocean University of China in Qingdao, said there was a worrying trend in China’s relations with other nations. “We need political and diplomatic means to resolve the challenges we are facing, but … diplomatic methods have become undiplomatic,” he said. “There are some who believe that problems can be solved through tough gestures, but this will never work. Without diplomacy, problems become confrontations.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during his annual press conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress last weekend that China and the United States must work together to prevent a new Cold War. His words were echoed by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang , who said during a press conference after the closure of the legislative session on Thursday that the many challenges facing the China-US relations could only be resolved through cooperation. However, the government adviser said there was often quite a chasm between what China’s leaders said and what happened in reality. “Even though we say we do not want a Cold War, what is happening at the working level seems to be different.” he said. “The implementation of policies is not properly coordinated and often chaotic.” Tensions between China and the US have been in a poor state since the start of a trade war almost two years ago. After multiple rounds of negotiations, the sides in January signed a phase one deal, but the positivity that created was short-lived. In February, Beijing expelled three reporters from The Wall Street Journal over an article it deemed racist, while Washington has ramped up its military activity in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, and threatened to revoke the visas of Chinese students studying science and technology in the US over concerns they might be engaged in espionage . Beijing has also used its state media and army of “ Wolf Warrior ” diplomats to promote its narrative, though many Chinese scholars and foreign policy advisers have said the latter’s nationalistic fervour has done more harm than good and appealed to Beijing to adopt a more conciliatory tone. However, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Chinese tabloid Global Times , said China had no option but to stare down the US, which regarded the world’s most populous nation as its main rival. “Being contained by the US is too high a price for China to pay,” he said. “I think the best thing people can do is forget the old days of China-US ties”. Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, wrote in a recent newspaper article that Beijing’s actions – notably enacting a national security law for Hong Kong – showed it was uncompromising and ready to stand its ground against the US. Wu Xinbo, dean of international studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, agreed, saying relations between the two countries were likely to worsen in the run-up to the US presidential election in November and that Beijing should be prepared for a fight. But Adam Ni, director of China Policy Centre, a think tank in Canberra, said the issue was not that the moderate camp had been sidelined, but rather Beijing’s perception of the US had changed. “Beijing has woken up to the idea that America’s tough policy on China will continue and it is expecting an escalation of the tensions,” he said. “The centre of gravity in terms of Beijing’s perception of the US has shifted, in the same way the US perception of China has shifted towards a more negative image”. Beijing was simply responding in kind to the hardline, assertive manner of the US, he said.