Antony Blinken to say China strategy is about rules-based order, not ‘new Cold War’

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Blinken holds videoconference with government leaders in Kenya from the State Department in Washington

The United States does not seek to sever China from the global economy, but wants Beijing to adhere to international rules, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to say in a long-awaited speech on Thursday.

“This is not about a new Cold War. This is not about dividing the world into rigid ideological blocks,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters in a briefing call in advance of the speech outlining the U.S. strategy to deal with China’s rise as a great power.

“It is about upholding and, just as importantly, revitalizing international order in a way that protects core principles that have enabled peace and prosperity for decades,” the official said.

U.S.-China relations sank to their lowest level in decades under the Trump administration and have soured further under President Joe Biden, who has so far kept up his predecessor’s sweeping tariffs on Chinese goods, but also has pursued closer ties with allies in the Indo-Pacific and beyond to push back on Beijing’s growing influence.

Nonetheless, seventeen months into his administration, Biden has faced criticism from Republicans and some foreign policy watchers for not announcing a formal strategy on China, the world’s second-largest economy and Washington’s main strategic rival.

Foreign crises, including the messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, have created distractions for Biden, who has vowed not to let China surpass the United States as global leader on his watch.

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Blinken’s speech coincides with the start of a sweeping tour by China’s foreign minister of Pacific island countries, an increasingly tense front in competition for influence between Beijing and Washington and its allies.

Blinken will make it clear that Washington’s “unwavering focus” remains on the Indo-Pacific and China, officials said, while laying out the contours of the strategy, which is to invest in U.S. competitiveness and align with allies and partners to compete with China.

“The Secretary will make it clear that the United States is not looking to sever China’s economy from ours or from the global economy … We simply seek to ensure that China plays by the same rules as everybody else,” a second official said.

Blinken will also underscore that the United States “will not trade cooperation in these areas for compromise on our principles,” the official said.

Washington’s approach will be to shape the environment around China, not try to change its behavior, while ensuring that American companies are protected from what it sees as Beijing’s unfair practices, such as state-led subsidies and market access barriers, the officials said.

The Biden administration has sought to capitalize on fresh solidarity with allies spurred by Russia’s war in Ukraine and its “no-limits” partnership with China announced just weeks before the Feb. 24 invasion.

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Increased U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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” behavior.

Biden also has sought to create fresh momentum in ties with Southeast Asia, declaring a “new era” of relations at a summit in Washington this month.

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