In a lengthy speech at George Washington University on Thursday, the top US diplomat defined the administration’s approach as “investment, alignment, competition,” and said that while the United States does not seek conflict with China, it is willing to defend its interests.
“We will invest in our strengths back home – our competitiveness, our innovation and our democracy. We will coordinate our efforts with our network of allies and partners, working toward a common goal and in a common cause. And harnessing these two key assets, we will compete with China to defend our interests and build our vision for the future,” Blinken said.
The speech comes at the same time that the focus of the United States – and the international community – has shifted 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 set off alarm bells for all of us, who call out to the Indo-Pacific,” and more broadly underscored the importance of focusing on threats. Which he said the Chinese government is shaping up for the world, even as the war in Ukraine continues.
“China is the only country with the intent of reshaping the international system, and increasingly the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do so,” Blinken said.
Blinken’s nearly 40-minute speech sought to underscore the degree to which the relationship between Washington and Beijing has become “one of the most complex and influential of any we have in the world today.”
Describing broadly how the United States intends to deal with that relationship, he has drawn sharp differences between the two countries, describing things like China’s “repressive” government, unfair trade practices and human rights abuses.
However, the top US diplomat has repeatedly emphasized that the United States does not seek to thwart China as a world power or change its political system, nor does it seek to clash with it.
“We are not looking for a conflict or a new Cold War. On the contrary, we are determined to avoid both,” Blinken said.
He said the United States is ready to strengthen diplomacy and increase engagement with China “across a whole range of issues,” and is ready to work together on matters of mutual interest such as climate change and COVID-19, noting that “even as we invest, match and compete, or side by side With Beijing, where our interests converge.”
“We cannot let the differences that divide us prevent us from moving forward with priorities that require that we work together for the good of our people and for the sake of the world,” he said.
“This is a fraught moment for the world,” Blinken noted.
“In times like these, diplomacy is vital,” the senior US diplomat said. “It’s how we articulate our deepest fears, understand each other’s point of view better, and have no doubts about each other’s intentions.”
“We are ready to increase our direct contacts with Beijing across a whole range of issues. We hope that will happen,” he said.
China’s new foreign ministry team
As a way of trying to bolster that diplomacy, Blinken said he is determined to give the State Department the necessary tools, including “to build the ‘Chinese House’, an integrated department-wide team that will coordinate and implement our policy across issues and regions, working with Congress as needed.”
“We remain committed to intense diplomacy coupled with intense competition,” he said.
However, Blinken also cautioned that “we cannot count on Beijing to change course. We will therefore shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision of an open and inclusive international order.”
“We do not seek to prevent China from its role as a major power, nor to prevent China – or any country for that matter – from developing its economy or advancing the interests of its people. But we will defend and strengthen China. International law, agreements, principles, and institutions maintain peace and security and protect the rights of individuals and countries with Sovereignty enables all nations – including the United States and China – to coexist and cooperate.”
“We are opposed to any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side. We do not support Taiwan independence, and we expect cross-Straits differences to be resolved by peaceful means,” Blinken said.
However, Blinken noted, “Although our policy has not changed, what has changed is the increasing coercion of Beijing, such as trying to sever Taiwan’s relations with countries around the world and preventing it from participating in international organizations, and Beijing engaging in increasingly provocative rhetoric and activism, such as People’s Liberation Army planes fly near Taiwan almost daily.”
“These words and actions are deeply destabilizing. They risk miscalculation and threaten peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. As we have seen from the President’s discussions with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region, maintaining peace and stability across the street is not only in the interest of the United States, it is a matter of international concern, and critical to regional and global security and prosperity.”
The top US diplomat also stressed the importance of ensuring that even as tensions persist between Washington and Beijing, the anger is not focused on the Chinese people or people of Chinese descent in the United States.
“We also know from our history that when we run a challenging relationship with another government, people from this country or who have this heritage can be made to feel that they do not belong here, or that they are our enemies. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“Abusing someone of Chinese descent goes against everything we stand for as a country,” Blinken continued, noting that “differences are between governments and regimes, not between our people.”
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