Wed. Jul 24th, 2024
Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Laura Bicker of BBC

QUESTION:  Thanks very much for joining us on the BBC.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to be with you.

QUESTION:  I’d like to start with what were the biggest points of contention after hearing your Chinese counterparts on this trip?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think what’s really important is this.  I was last here ten months ago, and that really kicked off much greater engagement between our countries, diplomatic engagement at all levels with a number of my colleagues coming to China after my trip and then most importantly President Biden and President Xi meeting in San Francisco on the margins of the APEC summit at the end of last year.  And they agreed that it was very important to sustain this diplomatic dialogue and communication because we have an obligation to try to manage the relationship between our countries responsibly given the import that it has not only for our own people but for people around the world.

And that has two aspects.  One is making sure that we’re communicating clearly, particularly in places where we have differences, to avoid misunderstandings, to avoid miscalculations.  The other is seeing if we can’t build greater cooperation in areas where we have a mutual interest in doing that.  And so that’s exactly what I was focused on here – carrying that agenda forward, the agenda that the two presidents set.

And look, and there are clearly areas where we have real and profound differences, but we’re talking about it.  We’re making our intentions clear.  But we’ve also seen progress in areas of cooperation on counternarcotics, on military-to-military communication, now a dialogue on artificial intelligence, and also trying to build up people-to-people exchanges.

QUESTION:  What did you need to walk away with to make this trip a success for you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think we’ve seen already that this is a process and it’s not like flipping a light switch.  We – the presidents agreed that we would work to cooperate on counternarcotics, fentanyl, synthetic opioids – the biggest killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 45.  And the way it’s made is with chemicals, the ingredients, the precursors that get synthesized into this opioid, and those chemicals are often manufactured in China – for totally appropriate and legal purposes, but then they get diverted to criminal organizations that turn them into fentanyl and send them into the United States.

We’ve seen a real change in terms of cooperation from China and trying to deal with that, but in my conversations today we focused on how to carry that forward to have a real impact, to make sure we have results, certain steps that we’re looking to China to take to demonstrate that.  Similarly, as I mentioned, we announced we’re going to have a dialogue on artificial intelligence – the risks attendant to it, safety concerns – because it’s important that we talk about it.

QUESTION:  What are those steps in fentanyl?  Because the Chinese side say they are taking this very seriously.  Are they?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah.  No, they are taking it seriously, but there’s a difference, as we would say, between inputs and impact.  And to get the impact – which is really slowing if not ending the flow of these chemicals toward the United States – there are really three things that would be important, I think, that can make progress, change behavior.  One is law enforcement actions but particularly prosecution of people who are engaged in sending the chemicals or the equipment to these criminal enterprises that make fentanyl.  Second would be to make sure that the chemicals that the UN agency that’s responsible for this said should be regulated, listed, scheduled is the word that’s used, that China move forward and actually do that, list these chemicals so that they’re controlled.

And the third thing would be to really focus on the financial networks and any connections between Chinese individuals and Chinese enterprises and the financial networks, particularly these cartels, some of which are using cryptocurrency to get around controls.  I think if we see action in those areas, that’s going to produce effective results in slowing the flow of chemicals.

QUESTION:  Let’s look at those red lines – Taiwan.  Earlier this week, Congress has approved billions of dollars on military aid for Taiwan.  This to China, they believe that this funding is pushing the island into a dangerous situation.  How will this aid package deter China?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  What we’re focused on is maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.  And this is not only an interest of the United States, it’s an interest of countries around the world.  Fifty percent of commercial container traffic goes through that strait every single day for the entire world.  Seventy percent of the semiconductors that the world relies on for everything from dishwashers to cars to our iPhones – made in Taiwan.  So everyone has interest in making sure that peace and stability is preserved.

And we’ve had a longstanding policy – it’s a “one China” policy – but that also includes making sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself.  And the assistance that we’ve provided them and provided them for decades is commensurate with the threat.  That’s actually a way of deterring conflict, deterring aggression, making sure that it doesn’t happen.  That’s what we talked about.

QUESTION:  Is that how China sees it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  They may see it differently.  But what really matters is less how they see it and more what they do.  So for us, for many, many other countries, preserving the status quo, ensuring that differences are resolved peacefully, that’s what matters.

QUESTION:  You came to ask Beijing to stop supplying Moscow with components that Russia is using in its invasion of Ukraine.  You’ve asked them to do this before.  What makes you think that they will listen to you this time?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, let’s be clear about what’s happening and what’s not happening.  What’s not happening is the provision of actual arms by China to Russia for use in Ukraine.  And at the very start of Russia’s aggression we made clear to China that that was unacceptable, and we’ve not seen them do that.  Where Russia is getting arms from other countries, it’s from North Korea, it’s from Iran.

But what China is doing, or what some of its enterprises are doing, is to provide critical components for Russia’s defense industrial base, things like machine tools, microelectronics, and optics.  Those are being used to help Russia on what’s an extraordinary crash course effort to make more munitions, tanks, armored vehicles, missiles.  And the actions that Russia is taking are growing at a pace unlike any we’ve seen in its modern history, including the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and this could not be happening without the support that China is providing.  Seventy percent of the machine tools that Russia is getting from abroad are coming from China.  Ninety percent of the microelectronics.

So we’ve been very clear that this is doing two things: it’s helping Russia perpetuate its aggression against Ukraine, but it’s also creating a growing threat to Europe because of Russia’s aggression.  And what I’m hearing from Europeans is deep concern about this.

So for China, if it wants to have better relations not only with us but with countries in Europe, it can’t do that while at the same time helping to fuel the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War.  We’ve taken action already against Chinese entities that are engaged in this, and what I made clear today is that if China won’t act, we will.

QUESTION:  You say you will act.  I just want to be clear on what you’re prepared to do.  Are you going to prepare another package of sanctions against China, or what would those actions involve?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I’m not going to get into the details except to say look at what we’ve – look at what we’ve done already.  We’ve imposed sanctions, export controls of one kind or another, on more than a hundred Chinese entities because of their involvement in helping Russia with its defense industrial base, and we’re fully prepared to take further action.

QUESTION:  Wouldn’t that be the nuclear option?  Because obviously for today, from Wang Yi, there did seem to be a warning to the United States that this could go either way, that this relationship is at a crossroads.  If you impose more sanctions, surely the relationship could deteriorate.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, look, China has to make decisions; we have to make decisions.  We will never shy away from defending very clearly, both in what we say and what we do, our interests as well as our values.  And that’s also something that I made clear in many conversations, many hours of conversation that I’ve had with my Chinese counterparts, something that President Biden has made very clear to President Xi.

But look, we have a relationship with China that’s incredibly consequential, but also incredibly complex.  There are aspects, clearly, of intense competition, and it’s in our interest to make sure to the best of our ability that that competition doesn’t become conflict.  There are aspects of real contestation.  There are also aspects, as I said, of cooperation, where in the – in our interests, in their interests, we’re actually pursuing things together like counternarcotics.  And we have to be able to do all of them at the same time.

QUESTION:  You’ve rejected China’s call that Palestine be accepted as a full member-state in the United Nations.  Every U.S. attempt, working with every political shade of Israeli government since the Oslo Accords, has failed to achieve a two-state solution.  Isn’t it time that the United States accept it?  That when it comes to a solution on this, it doesn’t have all the answers?  Isn’t it time that the U.S. started listening to other countries’ ideas on the Middle East?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well first, there’s a long history here that we don’t have time to get into but that I’ve been a part of, many of my colleagues have been a part of for many years, decades after the creation of the state of Israel, where Israel accepted the UN plan, the Arabs didn’t, and also urged the Palestinians not to.  So decades of rejection by Arabs – that changed.  Then we had a long period where Palestinians rejected many offers that were put on the table, including by American administrations, that would have been —

QUESTION:  But we are in an unprecedented crisis now.  Isn’t it time for the United States to listen to other ideas now?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, what we’re doing is not taking actions that would be – would produce no results.  Because nothing will result from the Security Council resolution that you refer to.  Sure, we can put something on a piece of paper and wave it around; it’s not going to make a difference in actually achieving something that we strongly support, which is the realization of a Palestinian state.  This is something that we’re working on intensely every day, and we’ve made very clear that we believe there has to be a pathway, a clear pathway, to a state.  For many months, well before October 7th, we were working on trying to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.  But a key component of that, and one that actually on October 10th I was scheduled to go to Israel and Saudi Arabia to work on it, was the Palestinian piece.

Because what’s clear is this:  There is a very different future that’s possible for Israel and for all the countries in the region – a future where Israel has normal relations with all the countries in the region, something that it’s sought from the very first day of its existence; a future where the Palestinian question is finally resolved; a future where Israel is actually more secure; a future where its biggest threat to its security, and also a threat to so many countries in the region and to us, Iran, is isolated.  But to get there, two things are required: an end to the conflict in Gaza and a clear pathway to a Palestinian state.  We’ve been working very intensely with many partners in the region to flesh that out.  And we’re going to get to a point where people are going to have to make decisions.  They’re going to have to decide whether to take that path or to continue on the path that we’ve been on.

QUESTION:  The problem is we’ve now got a catastrophic loss of life in Gaza.  And you’re sitting here in China, where they are managing to paint the United States as hypocrites.  You’re asking China to stop supplying components – not weapons, components – to Ukraine, while you’re supplying weapons to Israel.  So it allows – it erodes the credibility of the United States – not just here in China, but around the world, don’t you think?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well of course, China will do whatever it will do to distort our policies and to misinform its own people about what we’re actually doing, what we’re not doing, what we stand for, what we don’t stand for.  That happens.

When it comes to Israel, we’ve also been very clear that we want to make sure that Israel has the capacity to defend itself.  We just saw it on the receiving end of an unprecedented attack from Iran with more than 300 projectiles, including more than a hundred ballistic missiles, that could have gone —

QUESTION:  Which were all brought down.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes, they were all brought down, because in part we helped provide for Israel’s defense, as did other countries, both Europe and in the region.  It faces a multiplicity of other threats, including from Hizballah, including from other Iranian-aligned groups.  So we’re committed to its defense.  At the same time, we’re also determined to help ensure that October 7th never happens again.  But the way that Israel goes about doing that matters greatly, and the fact that so many innocent children, women, and men have been killed or harmed in this crossfire of Hamas’s making is gut-wrenching.  And every single day we’re working to try to bring the conflict to an end, to try to provide for better protection of civilians, to try to make sure that the assistance that people so desperately need actually gets to them.

But you know who else has a vote in this?  Hamas.  And it’s actually extraordinary the silence around the world about Hamas, the fact that it’s as if it’s not part of this equation.  Hamas could have ended this months ago by putting down its weapons, by stopping hiding behind civilians, by surrendering, by returning the hostages.  It hasn’t done that.

QUESTION:  Does China have a part to play here?  Is that what you’ve been talking to your counterparts on?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think it does.  I’ve actually had I think since October 7th something like six conversations with my Chinese counterpart, either in person or on the phone.  And I think China can play a constructive role here.  It has relationships, it has influence with countries like Iran that it can use effectively to, in the first instance, try to prevent the conflict from spreading.  And we saw that almost happen 10 days ago or so, and I believe that China did use its relationship with Iran to urge that there not be escalation.  So that’s a positive thing.

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originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS