US officials have "lost their minds and gone mad" in their dealings with Beijing, China's foreign ministry said Friday, in the latest verbal salvo between the two superpowers.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing have run high this year and some of the most outspoken critics of China in American congress were this week hit with sanctions, days after the US imposed visa bans and asset freezes on several Chinese officials.
US Attorney General Bill Barr added fuel to the fire on Thursday when he accused Beijing of mounting an "economic blitzkrieg" to replace Washington as the world's pre-eminent power and spread its political ideology around the world.
But foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Barr and other American officials were criticizing China to distract from domestic political problems.
"These people, for self-interest and political gain, do not hesitate to hijack domestic public opinion... to the point where they have lost their minds and gone mad," she said.
Hua added that China had no intention of challenging or replacing the US and said she hoped that Washington could "return to rationality" in its China policy.
"A sparrow cannot understand the ambition of a swan," she said.
"This is a serious misjudgment and misunderstanding of China's strategic intent."
For the second time in two weeks, the US has deployed two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea, the US Navy said on Friday.
The USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan carried out operations and military exercises in the contested waterway between July 4 and July 6, and returned to the region on Friday, according to a US Navy statement.
"Nimitz and Reagan Carrier Strike Groups are operating in the South China Sea, wherever international law allows, to reinforce our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, a rules based international order, and to our allies and partners in the region," Rear Admiral Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz, said in the statement.
The presence of the carriers was not in response to political or world events, the statement added.