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U.S. not looking for new Cold War with China but will defend the international order, Blinken says

In a speech about China, the secretary of state offered no clues about how the Biden administration will handle trade disputes or whether it will lift tariffs imposed by Trump.

The U.S. is not seeking a new Cold War with China but will rally allies to defend the international order against Beijing’s “aggressive” vision, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday.

In a speech to spell out the Biden administration’s strategy on China, Blinken said the Russian invasion of Ukraine would not distract the U.S. from confronting the long-term challenge posed by China.

“We aren’t looking for conflict or a new Cold War. To the contrary, we’re determined to avoid both. 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,” Blinken told an audience at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. 

“But we will defend and strengthen the international law, agreements, principles and institutions that maintain peace and security, protect the rights of individuals and sovereign nations and make it possible for all countries — including the United States and China — to coexist and cooperate,” Blinken said.

The U.S. will safeguard its interests and compete with China by working in concert with allies around the world and investing in innovation at home, Blinken said. 

The Biden administration’s strategy toward China can be summed up as “invest, align, compete,” Blinken said, calling for bolstering research and development in new technology.

Although the administration portrayed the long-delayed speech as a major pronouncement on U.S. policy toward China, Blinken did not unveil any major change in course or shed any light on how the White House intends to handle trade tensions with Beijing. The administration has yet to signal whether it is ready to lift any of the hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs imposed on China by former President Donald Trump.

“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. 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.

But he said China plays a vital role in the global economy and is integral to tackling international problems like climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Put simply, the United States and China have to deal with each other for the foreseeable future. That’s why this is one of the most complex and consequential relationships of any we have in the world today,” Blinken said.

The U.S. stands ready “to increase our direct communication with Beijing across a full range of issues,” he said. “We hope that can happen.”  

China’s rise as an economic power was partly the result of the international rules-based order that Washington helped to build after World War II, Blinken said.

“But 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,” he said. “Under President Xi, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad.”

Blinken’s speech follows President Joe Biden’s trip to Asia, during which the president appeared to contradict long-standing U.S. policy on Taiwan. Asked whether the U.S. would intervene “militarily” to defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China, Biden said, “Yes.”   

White House officials later walked back Biden’s comments, saying U.S. policy on the question remains one of “strategic ambiguity.”

Blinken said in his speech that there had been no change in U.S. policy on Taiwan, which he said is consistent with that of past U.S. administrations. 

“We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. We do not support Taiwan independence, and we expect cross-strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means,” Blinken said.

But he accused China of provocative behavior, citing efforts to cut off Taiwan’s relations with other countries and flying military aircraft near Taiwan nearly daily. “These words and actions are deeply destabilizing. They risk miscalculation and threaten the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait,” Blinken said.

During his tour of Asia, Biden also unveiled a 13-country economic framework to counter China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which was also supposed to offer Asian states an alternative to coercive economic tactics from Beijing.

The Biden administration has yet to provide many details about the criteria for the new economic framework.