Blinken calls US-China relations biggest challenge of century in major speech
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday labeled U.S. relations with China as the biggest geopolitical challenge of the 21st century and the one that animates the Biden administration’s foreign policy strategy.
The secretary’s remarks, made during his first major foreign policy speech, were delivered as President Biden is expected later today to release an outline for “interim strategic guidance” for U.S. national security and foreign policy.
Blinken laid out several principles and goals in his speech, delivered at the State Department, which underscore broader U.S. global engagement but that will serve to confront, compete and cooperate with China and the necessity for doing so.
“China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system, all the rules, values and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to, because it ultimately serves the interests and reflects the values of the American people,” the secretary said.
“Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, adversarial when it must be,” he added.
The secretary called for working with allies and partners in a coordinated response to confront China, standing up for human rights to push back on Beijing’s “impunity” and investing in American workers, companies and technologies and “insisting on a level playing field.”
The speech, an implicit rejection of former President Trump’s “America First” agenda, served as an appeal to Americans on how U.S. global relations directly affect the country’s domestic priorities.
“Americans have been asking tough but fair questions about what we’re doing, how we’re leading. Indeed, whether we should be leading at all,” Blinken said.
“More than any other time in my career, maybe in my lifetime, distinctions between domestic and foreign policy have simply fallen away. Our domestic renewal and our strength in the world are completely entwined, and how we work will reflect that reality.”
The secretary’s remarks built upon messages from Biden and other officials throughout the campaign, transition and a little over a month into the administration that the U.S. must be present and leading on the global stage to ensure rules and values that benefit American interests.
“When the U.S. pulls back … either another country tries to take our place, but not in a way that advances our interests and values, or maybe just as bad, no one steps up and then we get chaos and all the dangers it creates,” Blinken said.
The secretary said the world is different from 2017, when Trump took office, and different from 2009, when many of the Biden administration’s current officials served in the Obama administration, including Biden himself as vice president.
“Our foreign policy fit the moment as any good strategy should, but this is a different time,” Blinken, who served as deputy secretary of State during the Obama administration, said. “So our strategy, and approach are different.”
Blinken underscored that the U.S. will take a leading role on the global stage in coordination and engagement with allies and outlined several key areas that are priority agenda items for the Biden administration.
This includes beating back COVID-19 and ensuring global health security — “None of us will be fully safe until the majority of the world is immune,” he said — and addressing the U.S. economic crisis, supporting the president’s push for a $1.9 trillion aid package expected for a vote in the Senate.
“We need to pass the right policies at home, like the relief package the president is pushing hard for right now, while working to manage the global economy so it truly benefits the American people,” he said.
The secretary also emphasized the need to support democracy abroad as well as address the divisions in American society that led to the attack on Jan. 6 on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters looking to disrupt the election result certification for Biden.
“Shoring up our democracy is a foreign policy imperative. Otherwise, we play right into the hands of adversaries and competitors like Russia and China, who seize every opportunity to sow doubts about the strength of our democracy. We shouldn’t be making their jobs easier,” Blinken said.
Blinken further said the administration will address immigration, with “just a plain decent solution” to aid people fleeing persecution but strengthening border security and addressing root causes of migration.
He further called for tackling the climate crisis, driving “a green energy revolution” and leading a global effort to reduce carbon pollution.
Securing American leadership on technology is “critical to us thriving in the 21st century,” the secretary emphasized, and pointed to the threat from the Russian-sponsored SolarWinds hack of the federal government and hundreds of entities as an example of adversarial threats.
Blinken further committed to diplomacy first over military intervention but said the U.S. would not hesitate to use force when necessary.
He pointed to the recent strike the president launched on Iranian sites in Syria in retaliation for a missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq, which killed a civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and several coalition troops.
Yet the strike drew pushback from some senior Democratic lawmakers for not engaging Congress ahead of the attack.
“In that case, and in future cases when we must take military action, we will do so, only when the objectives and mission are clear and achievable, consistent with our values and laws and with the informed consent of the American people. And we’ll do it together with diplomacy,” Blinken said.
The secretary further made a commitment to promoting diversity among racial, ethnic and gender groups in the national security workforce — “This is a national security imperative, and a personal priority for me,” he said — while also standing up for human rights protections of minority and oppressed groups abroad.
“We’ll stand up against injustice toward women and girls, LGBTQI people, religious minorities, and people of all races and ethnicities,” the secretary said.
Blinken called acting on the priorities laid out in his speech “the most urgent, the ones on which we must make swift and sustained progress.”