US Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the Biden administration’s strategy towards China, seeking to refocus attention on what he called “the most serious long-term challenge to the international order.”
In a lengthy speech delivered at George Washington University Thursday, the top US diplomat outlined the administration’s approach as “invest, align, compete,” and said that although the United States does not seek conflict with China, it is prepared to defend its interests.
“We will invest in the foundations of our strength at home – our competitiveness, our innovation, our democracy. We will align our efforts with our network of allies and partners, acting with common purpose and in common cause. And harnessing these two key assets, we’ll compete with China to defend our interests and build our vision for the future,” said Blinken.
The speech comes as much of the focus of the United States – and the global community – has been turned to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Blinken highlighted “Beijing’s defense of President Putin’s war to erase Ukraine’s sovereignty and secure a sphere of influence in Europe,” saying it “should raise alarm bells for all of us, who call the Indo-Pacific region home,” and more broadly emphasized the importance of focusing on the threats he said the Chinese government poses to the world, even as the war in Ukraine wages on.
“China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do it,” Blinken said.
Blinken’s roughly 40-minute long speech sought to underscore the degree to which the Washington-Beijing relationship is “one of the most complex and consequential relationships of any that we have in the world today.”
As he broadly described how the US intends to approach that relationship, he drew sharp distinctions between the two nations, describing things like China’s “repressive” government, unfair trade practices and human rights abuses.
However, the top US diplomat also repeatedly stressed that the US does not seek to stymy China as a world power or change its political system, nor does it seek a clash with it.
“We are not looking for conflict or a new Cold War. To the contrary, we’re determined to avoid both,” Blinken said.
He said the US is ready to strengthen diplomacy and increase communication with China “across a full range of issues,” and is prepared to work together on matters of mutual interest like climate change and Covid-19, noting that “even as we invest, align and compete, or together with Beijing, where our interests come together.”
“We can’t let the disagreements that divide us stop us from moving forward on the priorities that demand that we work together for the good of our people and for the good of the world,” he said.
Blinken noted that “this is a charged moment for the world.”
“And at times like these, diplomacy is vital,” the top US diplomat said. “It’s how we make clear our profound concerns, better understand each other’s perspective, and have no doubt about each other’s intentions.”
“We stand ready to increase our direct communication with Beijing across a full range of issues. And we hope that can happen,” he continued.
New State Department China team
As a means to try to foster that diplomacy, Blinken said he was determined to give the State Department the necessary tools, including “building a ‘China House,’ a department-wide integrated team that will coordinate and implement our policy across issues and regions, working with Congress as needed.”
“We remain committed to intense diplomacy, alongside intense competition,” he said.
However, Blinken also warned, “we can’t rely on Beijing to change its trajectory. So we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open and inclusive international system.”
“We don’t seek to block China from its role as a major power, nor to stop China – or any country for that matter – from growing their economy or advancing the interests of their people. But we will defend and strengthen the international law, agreements, principles, and institutions that maintain peace and security, protect the rights of individuals and sovereign nations, and make it possible for all countries – including the United States and China – to coexist and cooperate,” Blinken said.
On Taiwan, the top US diplomat again stressed that US policy towards the island over which China claims sovereignty has not changed, despite comments by President Joe Biden last week that the US would respond militarily if Beijing attacked Taiwan.
“We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. We do not support Taiwan independence, and we expect cross strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means,” Blinken said.
However, Blinken noted that “while our policy has not changed, what has changed is Beijing’s growing coercion, like trying to cut off Taiwan’s relations with countries around the world and blocking it from participating in international organizations, and Beijing is engaged in increasingly provocative rhetoric and activity, like flying PLA aircraft near Taiwan on an almost daily basis.”
“These words and actions are deeply destabilizing. They risk miscalculation and threaten the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait. As we saw from the President’s discussions with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining peace and stability across the street is not just a US interest, it is a matter of international concern, critical to regional and global security and prosperity.”
The top US diplomat also emphasized the importance of ensuring that even as tensions between Washington and Beijing remain high, ire is not focused the people of China or those of Chinese descent in the US.
“We also know from our history that when we’re managing a challenging relationship with another government, people from that country or with that heritage can be made to feel that they don’t belong here, or that they’re our adversaries. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
“Mistreating someone of Chinese descent goes against everything we stand for as a country,” Blinken continued, noting that the “differences are between governments and systems, not between our people.”