Blinken takes aim at China's Xi Jinping in speech on global order

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lays out Biden administration's approach to China

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks on outlining US strategy toward China at George Washington University in Washington, on May 26, 2022. Bloomberg
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US will seek to influence China’s behaviour by shaping “the strategic environment around Beijing” in a speech that took direct aim at President Xi Jinping’s performance in leading the world’s second-biggest economy.

“This is a charged moment for the world,” Mr Blinken said on Thursday in a speech laying out the administration of President Joe Biden administration’s approach to China.

“We cannot rely on Beijing to change its trajectory. So, we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open, inclusive international system.”

Speaking at George Washington University, Mr Blinken said that China is seeking to dominate the industries of the future and that the US response will be to bolster investment at home; work closely with allies, particularly in the Indo-Pacific; and compete with China on a “level playing field”.

He said Mr Xi’s government is actively undercutting the international system that aided China’s rise, while saying the US does not seek a new Cold War with Beijing.

“Rather than using its power to reinforce and revitalise the laws, agreements, principles and institutions that enabled its success, so that other countries can benefit from them, too, Beijing is undermining it,” Mr Blinken said.

The secretary of state’s comments were unusually direct. He praised the US for having the world’s “most powerful military” and lauded American-created Covid-19 vaccines that have been shown to be more effective than those made in China.

He also emphasised that the US is providing millions of vaccines to other nations without political strings attached.

Mr Blinken said the US does not want to “sever” China from the global economy, but warned that “Beijing, despite its rhetoric, is pursuing asymmetric decoupling, seeking to make China less dependent on the world and the world more dependent on China”.

And he said that businesses should not sacrifice western values in seeking access to China’s markets.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks on China at George Washington University. Getty Images / AFP

In terms of areas of potential co-operation, Mr Blinken cited climate change, food security, and Iran and North Korea's nuclear programmes as well as “global macro co-ordination” as the global economy recovers from the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In short, we will engage constructively with China wherever we can, not as a favour to us or anyone else, and never in exchange from walking away from our principles,” he said.

The unusually frank rhetoric against China’s government comes after tension between the nations soured further over what the US sees as China’s tacit support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and comments by Mr Biden suggesting that the US would take military action to defend Taiwan in case of invasion.

Mr Blinken said US policy towards Taiwan has not changed — “We do not support Taiwan independence,” he said — but he added that America has a “strong unofficial relationship” with Taipei.

Key unresolved issues remain, including the fate of $300 billion in tariffs Mr Biden inherited from the administration of former president Donald Trump. A top US trade official said on Wednesday that the administration’s review of those tariffs is likely to take months.

Thursday’s speech came after months of delays and internal deliberations, as well as Mr Blinken’s Covid-19 diagnosis earlier this month.

Mr Biden also unveiled a new 13-nation Indo-Pacific Economic Framework designed to counter China’s influence on a recent trip. The US did not invite China to join the economic framework and has not revealed the criteria for other nations to join.

Updated: May 26, 2022, 5:42 PM

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