Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Leila Fadel of NPR Morning Edition

Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Leila Fadel of NPR Morning Edition

QUESTION:  Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with China’s President Xi Jinping today, capping the first visit by a top U.S. diplomat to Beijing in five years.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Keeping those lines of communication open and in effect reopening them is in and of itself very, very important.  Direct engagement – sustained communications at senior levels – is the best way to responsibly manage our relationship.  It’s the best way to responsibly manage the differences, the deep differences that we have, to make sure that the competition that we’re in doesn’t veer into conflict.

QUESTION: I spoke with Secretary Blinken this morning and asked him about a diplomatic visit that has not been matched by a meeting between the top military officials in Beijing and Washington.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  These military-to-military contacts are hugely important if we’re going to avoid an unintentional conflict, and that was only reinforced over the last couple of weeks.  We saw incidents on the seas and in the skies that were really dangerous, and – in our judgment, unprofessional.  So that’s exactly why I’ve raised it.  I don’t have any immediate progress to report on that.  I can tell you it’s an ongoing priority and that’s something that we’ve made clear and we’ll continue to work on.

QUESTION:  One of the areas in which really there is global concern around conflict is Taiwan.  Beijing blames Washington, or really, Beijing and Washington are trading blame for the rising tension.  China blames the U.S. for bringing up its human rights record, for what China perceives as growing support of Taiwan.  With presidential elections in Taiwan in January, are you concerned things may escalate?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Taiwan is a question, a challenge that we’ve actually managed successfully for nearly five decades.  And it really is, in a way, a hallmark of the success of responsible management, because we’ve succeeded in preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait for four decades.  But we have real concerns about the direction that this has taken in recent years where China has taken reckless actions.

What we’ve said and what I’ve said repeatedly and very clearly is that we have a fundamental understanding that differences with regard to Taiwan will be resolved peacefully, that neither side will take any unilateral actions that could upset the status quo.  We reiterated the policy that we’ve followed from administration to administration, Republican and Democrat alike, of the “one China” policy.  That’s not changed.  I made that very clear.  We don’t support Taiwan’s independence.  And again, we oppose any unilateral actions by either side that would change the status quo.

So, it was important both – for China to understand that there has been no change to our policy.  The concern that we have is China changing its policy, when it comes to resolving these differences peacefully.  And I also shared that this is not just our concern; it’s the concern of many countries around the world.  And there’s a very good reason for that.  If there were to be a crisis over Taiwan, you’ve got about 50 percent of the global commercial container traffic that goes through the Taiwan Strait every day.  Fifty percent.  Half of the world’s trade, in effect, goes through there every day.  You got about 70 percent of high-end semiconductors that are produced on Taiwan.

If either of those things were taken offline as a result of a crisis, it could have devastating consequences for the global economy –  which is why countries around the world are looking with increasing concern at actions that are being taken that could disrupt the status quo, that could produce some kind of conflict or result in – a crisis that has these consequences.  So that’s something that I shared as well.

It’s tremendously important that we communicate clearly, directly about Taiwan.  That’s something, of course, that’s a primary concern for China.  So here we had really some very direct, very detailed, very explicit conversations, and at the very least, that brings more clarity to each of us about what the other is thinking.

QUESTION:  In the U.S., there’s pressure on both sides of the aisle here to be tough on China, and that seems like it will grow as the 2024 election approaches.  China’s leadership is surely constrained by domestic perceptions of the U.S. as well.  How do you prevent those domestic pressures and constraints from pushing you into policy choices that aren’t optimal on either side?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We have a responsibility to defend, protect, and advance the interests of the United States and its people.  And that is what motivates us in our relationship with China and, for that matter, with any other country.  And we believe the best way to do that is to do exactly what we’ve done over the last two and a half years.

We’ve made major investments, historic investments, at home – in our infrastructure, in our technology, in our research and development capacity, in our competitiveness.  And at the same time we re-engaged with allies and partners and we created much greater alignment, convergence with them, on the approach to China.

The result is that we’re now dealing with the challenges that China poses from a position of much greater strength than when we started.  And so, from that new foundation that we built, we’re better able to deal with the profound differences as well as – again, to look for areas where it makes sense to cooperate.  But the lead instrument we have now in doing that is our diplomacy.  And so it would be irresponsible not to engage, and counterproductive to our interests.

It’s the best way to avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to conflict.  It’s the best way to make clear, as I said, our position and intent when it comes to our profound differences.  It’s the best way to stand up for human rights.  It’s the best way to explore whether we can work together in our mutual interest.  It’s probably the only way to do things like get some detained Americans home; to produce cooperation on fentanyl – the leading killer of Americans aged 18-49; to defend the interests of our workers and our companies who are operating in China.

So, I think we’ve set a very strong foundation.  And now, we’re using engagement to try to advance our interests and to protect them.

QUESTION:  So talking, really, in your view, is the way to avoid conflict.  I do want to ask about China’s bold diplomatic moves on the global stage, offering to be between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, brokering a deal between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran; offering to broker peace in Ukraine while refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion.  Is China replacing the U.S. as global mediator, especially when you look at places like the Middle East?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I was just in the Middle East, in fact, in Saudi Arabia.  And while I was there, I met with not just the Saudis but the – all the membership of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and then a much broader coalition of countries that have come together years ago to deal with the threat posed by ISIS.  And what I can report from that is that the United States remains, far and away, the preferred partner for virtually all of these countries.

At the same time, if China takes initiatives that actually help solve problems and advance peace, that’s a good thing, and we support it.  That they hosted the final round of discussions between Iran and Saudi Arabia that had been going on for two years, and the result was an agreement that at least has the possibility of reducing tensions between them and solving one of the problems, one of the many problems, that Iran poses.  If China can play a constructive role in – when the time is right – finding a just and durable peace in Ukraine and ending the Russian aggression, that would be a good thing.

And we’ve applauded some of the – some parts of the peace principles that they put out – very consistent with our own, particularly when it comes to protecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.  It’s good, helpful, important, for significant countries like China to engage in ways that produce positive results.  That’s one of the things that I also shared with them.

But it’s also important – more than important – that if they’re engaged in these efforts, they are towards good and appropriate ends.  So when it comes to Ukraine, it’s not enough to have – just to have a peace.  It has to be just and durable.  It actually has to reflect the principles at the heart of the United Nations Charter, like territorial integrity and sovereignty.  And it has to help ensure that Russia can’t simply repeat the exercise two or three years later.  So it’s very useful here again for us to be able to talk clearly, directly, and in some detail about what the objectives should be and to see if we’re in the same place on it.

QUESTION:  Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking to us from Beijing as he wraps up his visit.  Thank you for taking the time.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to be with you.

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