Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the Biden administration is aiming to lead the international bloc opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a broader coalition to counter what it sees as a more serious, long-term threat to global order from China.
In a speech outlining the administration’s China policy Thursday, Blinken laid out a three-pillar approach to competing with Beijing in a race to define the 21st century’s economic and military balance. The Biden administration’s strategy, he said, can be summed up in three words: invest, align, compete.
While the U.S. sees Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine as the most acute and immediate threat to international stability, Blinken said the administration believes China poses a greater danger.
“Even as President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order – and that is the one posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Blinken said.
“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,” he said. “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.”
The secretary of state laid out principles for the administration to marshal its resources, friends and allies to push back on increasing Chinese assertiveness around the world. But he made it clear that the U.S. doesn’t seek to change China’s political system, just offer a tested alternative.
“This is not about forcing countries to choose, it’s about giving them a choice,” he said.
However, he also acknowledged that the U.S. has limited ability to directly influence China’s intentions and ambitions and will instead focus on shaping the strategic environment around China.
“We can’t rely on Beijing to change its trajectory,” Blinken said in the speech at George Washington University. “So we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open and inclusive international system.”
And Blinken acknowledged that the fates of U.S. and China “are linked,” and the two countries will need to work together on a number of global issues now and in the future, and “that’s why this is one of the most complex and consequential relationships of any that we have in the world today.”
The speech followed President Joe Biden’s visits to South Korea and Japan, concluded just this week, where China loomed large in discussions. During the trip, he made the surprising remark that the United States would act militarily to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of an invasion by China, which regards the island as a renegade province.
The administration was quick to insist Mr. Biden was not changing American policy, and Blinken on Thursday restated that the U.S. has not changed its position. Washington, he said, still holds to its “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows for unofficial links with and arms sales to Taipei.
Blinken argued that the global response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a template for confronting China’s efforts to mold a new and unpredictable world order to replace the rules and institutions that have guided relations between states since the end of World War II.
China, Blinken suggested, has benefited greatly from that international order but is now trying to subvert it under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.
“Rather than using its power to reinforce and revitalize the laws, agreements, principles, and institutions that enabled its success, so other countries can benefit from them, too, Beijing is undermining it,” Blinken said. “Under President Xi, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad.”
Investment in domestic U.S. infrastructure and technology along with stepping up diplomatic outreach to potentially vulnerable countries are other elements of the policy are key to the U.S. approach, Blinken said.
In the latest manifestation of China’s push to expand its reach that has drawn concern from the U.S. and other democracies, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday began an eight-nation tour of Pacific islands during which Beijing hopes to strike a sweeping agreement that covers everything from security to fisheries.
Wang opened his tour in the Solomon Islands, which last month signed a security cooperation pact with China that some fear could lead to a Chinese military presence there. The agreement was finalized shortly after the Biden administration announced it would open a U.S. embassy in the Solomons as part of its efforts to engage in the greater Indo-Pacific region.
The Biden administration has largely kept in place confrontational policies toward China adopted by its predecessor in response to Chinese actions in its western Xinjiang region, Hong Kong, Tibet and the South China Sea.
And, while the administration sees areas for working with Beijing, such as combatting climate change, Blinken vowed the U.S. will not trade cooperation for compromising on its principles regarding human rights and rule of law.