Blinken says US seeks China in international order, no ‘Cold War’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to outline a strategy to deal with China's rise as a great power. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Thursday (May 26) for vigorous competition with China to preserve the existing global order but said the United States did not seek a “Cold War.”

In a long-awaited speech billed as the most comprehensive remarks to date on China by President Joe Biden’s administration, Blinken said that Beijing posed “the most serious long-term challenge to the international order” despite months of US focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“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 in a speech at George Washington University, according to excerpts.

“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 said.

“President Biden believes this decade will be decisive. The actions we take at home and with countries worldwide will determine whether our shared vision of the future will be realized.”

Blinken acknowledged a growing consensus that the United States cannot change China’s trajectory, with President Xi Jinping taking an increasingly assertive stance both at home and abroad.

“So we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open and inclusive international system.”

In response, China’s Washington embassy said the United States and China shared “extensive common interests and profound cooperation potential” and “competition... should not be used to define the overall picture of the China-U.S. relations.”

“China and the US both stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation,” embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said.  

He noted a virtual summit between Biden and Xi last November and said the relationship was “at a critical crossroads.”

“We hope the US side will work with China to earnestly implement the common understanding reached by the two leaders to enhance communication, manage differences and focus on cooperation,” he said. 

No cold war

With no rhetorical bombast or surprises, Blinken drew an implicit contrast to the approach of the previous administration of Donald Trump which spoke in stark terms of an all-out global conflict with China.

Blinken, who on trips to Africa and Latin America has sought to downplay competition with China, did not ask nations to choose sides.

“We aren’t looking for conflict or a new Cold War. To the contrary, we’re determined to avoid both,” Blinken said.

“We don’t seek to block China from its role as a major power, nor to stop China – or any country – from growing their economy or advancing the interests of their people,” he said.

But he said that defence of a global order, including international law and agreements, would “make it possible for all countries – including the United States and China – to coexist and cooperate.”

Biden administration officials point to work with China on climate change, with the world’s two largest emitters meeting ahead of last year’s summit in Glasgow.

Such areas of collaboration have prompted criticism in some quarters of the United States, where polls show a sharp deterioration in opinions of China in the past several years.

The United States has worked with China despite accusing Beijing of carrying out an ongoing genocide in its western region of Xinjiang, where more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking people have been incarcerated.

Refocusing on Asia 

Saying that China will “test American diplomacy like nothing we’ve seen before,” Blinken announced the formation of a “China House” inside the State Department to coordinate policy across regions.

Blinken’s speech – delayed from earlier this month after he tested positive for Covid-19 – was the latest attempt by the Biden administration to show it is focused on Asia despite the Ukraine war.

Biden this month visited allies Japan and South Korea and invited leaders from Southeast Asia for a first-of-a-kind summit in Washington.

The speech comes days after Biden made waves at a Tokyo news conference by saying the United States would militarily defend Taiwan, the self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing.

Officials said Blinken would repeat Biden’s later insistence that he was not deviating from longstanding US policy on Taiwan.

The United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. It provides Taiwan weapons for self-defense, all while staying deliberately ambiguous on whether it would intervene militarily in an invasion.

Strategic ambiguity

Increased US support for the Chinese-claimed democratic island of Taiwan has continued to be a point of contention between Washington and Beijing, even though the United States, formally, has kept its long-standing policy of 'strategic ambiguity' on whether it would defend Taiwan militarily.

Blinken will reiterate US commitment to the one-China policy, even though Biden earlier this week said the United States would get involved militarily should China attack Taiwan.

He and his aides later said his remarks did not reflect a shift in policy.

Postponed once after Blinken tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in May, his address follows a month of intensive US diplomacy focused on the Indo-Pacific, including Biden's return this week from his first trip as president to the region.

The president's meetings there with leaders from South Korea, Japan, India, and Australia were intended, in part, to push back against what Washington calls China's "coercive" behaviour.

Biden also has sought to create fresh momentum in ties with South-east Asia, declaring a "new era" of relations at a summit in Washington this month.

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