The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has called for a vigorous defense of the existing global order, but stressed that Joe Biden’s administration did not seek a “cold war” with China.
“President Biden believes this decade will be decisive,” Blinken said in a China policy speech on Thursday. “The actions we take at home and with countries worldwide will determine whether our shared vision of the future will be realized.”
The Biden administration’s policy towards the world’s most populous country contained three words: invest, align and compete, Blinken said, adding that while the administration has devoted much of its resources to containing Moscow, Washington sees Beijing as a “long-term challenge”.
“China is the only country with both the attempt to reshape the international order – and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do it,” he warned in the speech hosted by Asia Society’s Policy Institute – delayed from earlier this month due to his positive Covid test result.
Blinken said that the administration will work with American partners and allies to preserve that international order, and double down on investments into research and development. The US will also attract the best talents from around the world – including those from the People’s Republic of China, he said.
Blinken highlighted China’s violation of human rights, infringement of citizens’ privacy as well as Xi Jinping’s “limitless” friendship with Vladimir Putinnoting that when the US president was in the region last week, Beijing and Moscow conducted military exercises in east Asia.
“Beijing’s vision would move us away from the universal values that have sustained so much of the world’s progress over the past 75 years,” he warned, reassuring smaller powers that Washington was not forcing other nations to pick a side, but rather “give them a choice”.
But Blinken acknowledged that Washington’s ability to directly influence China’s ambitions is limited. “So we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open and inclusive international system,” he said.
Tensions between the world’s two largest economies and military powers have continued to simmer in areas ranging from supply chains to geo-strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. This month, Biden visited allies Japan and South Korea and invited leaders from Asean nations for a summit in Washington, both of which drew ire from Beijing.
During his trip to Tokyo this week, Joe Biden warned his administration would defend Taiwan if the island were attacked by China, in an off-the-cuff remark that raised eyebrows at home and abroad. On Thursday, Blinken accused China of conducting “deeply destabilizing” actions around Taiwan.
Zhao Tong, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace based in Beijing, said that Blinken’s China speech on Thursday would not change Beijing’s perception about and its dealings with Washington significantly. “In Beijing’s view, the Biden administration has a darker heart than it is willing to admit,” Zhao said.
“The bottom line is: the existence of the serious perception gap is not yet recognized and is increasingly contributing to worst-case thinking about the US’s strategic intent. [in China].”
Before Blinken’s speech, China’s envoy to the US, Qin Gang, warned that his government considers the “one China principle” – which in Washington is called “one China policy” – as the “bedrock” of peace across the taiwan Strait.
“On an issue concerning China’s core interests, we will never compromise or back down. Any discussion in America about “strategic clarity” or “strategic ambiguity” is a waste of time,” he wrote in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post on Thursday.
Qin, who? early this year said the two countries could face a “military conflict” over the future of Taiwan, wrote: “No one should underestimate our determination, resolve and capability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”