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Blinken vows to confront, cooperate with China in first remarks at the State Department

CARLOS BARRIA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken concludes his first press briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, on January 27, 2021.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday committed to confronting China while also seeking to cooperate on shared interests such as climate change. 

“It’s not a secret that the relationship between the United States and China is arguably the most important relationship that we have in the world going forward,” he said in response to reporters’ questions during his first press conference as secretary of State.

“Increasingly, that relationship has some adversarial aspects to it,” he said, labeling Beijing as both a competitor and a necessary partner on combating climate change. 

“The cooperative ones are in areas where it’s in our mutual interest to try to work together, including, manifestly, on climate,” he added. 

Blinken’s remarks served as his introduction to the State Department press corps and his first formal presentation of the Biden administration’s appeal to the benefits of bringing the U.S. back to the global stage and reengaging allies. 

The press conference stood in contrast to the Trump administration’s “America First” foreign policy that rejected multilateral cooperation in favor of largely transactional bilateral agreements.  

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as national security officials and experts, have labeled China the biggest national security threat to the United States and the world order and have implored the Biden administration to take a tough stance on confronting Beijing. 

The Trump administration, while securing the first phase of a trade deal with China, effectively rejected cooperation with Beijing in President Trump’s last year in office, which saw relations between the world’s two leading economies plummet to new lows.  

In particular, the Trump administration blamed China for the COVID-19 pandemic and continued to raise the alarm and levy sanctions against Beijing over intellectual property theft, technology surveillance, rollback of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong and human rights abuses, to name a few.  

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his last full day in office labeled China’s treatment of its Uighur population in Xinjiang a genocide, a designation that President Biden’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said was currently under review at the State Department over concerns the designation did not follow the proper procedures. 

Blinken, in his remarks to the press, said he considers what is happening against the Uighurs to be genocide but did not comment on any specific review. 

The secretary also discussed Biden’s push to reengage with Iran diplomatically over its nuclear program, saying the administration wants to engage with allies to help negotiate a “stronger and longer” deal if Iran returns to compliance with the internationally negotiated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a strategy that has drawn intense pushback from Republicans and caution from senior Democratic lawmakers. 

“We would use that as a platform to build with our allies and partners what we call a longer and stronger agreement and to deal with a number of other issues that are deeply problematic in the relationship with Iran,” he added but said that is a “long ways off.”  

The secretary further committed to frequent appearances in the briefing room and daily briefings to be carried out by spokespeople. 

Pompeo, Blinken’s predecessor, typically appeared before for the press at the State Department once a month, with his final appearance in the briefing room in November. His interactions with the press at times grew combative, as he would cut off reporters or admonish them for asking “ridiculous” questions. 

Blinken acknowledged an expected tension between the State Department and press but committed to transparency and accountability. 

“President Biden has said that he wants truth and transparency back in the White House briefing room. That fully applies in this room as well,” he said. “I know we’re not always going to see eye to eye. That’s not the point of the enterprise.”

Blinken further committed to working with Congress, saying cooperation is essential to sell their vision that America’s engagement with foreign allies and leadership position on the world stage is vital to America’s prosperity.  

“There are going to be disagreements. There are going to be places where we are just in a different place. But I think we stand a better chance in producing the kind of policies that will stand the test of time if we’re working closely upfront with Congress,” he said.

Tags Antony Blinken Donald Trump Linda Thomas-Greenfield Mike Pompeo

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