Tue. Jul 16th, 2024
Senior State Department Official Previewing Secretary Blinken’s Upcoming Travel to the People’s Republic of China

MODERATOR:  All right and good afternoon, everybody, and thanks so much for joining us on this preview call to preview some forthcoming travel that Secretary Blinken is going to be undertaking.  This call is going to be on background, attributable to senior State Department officials.  Not for reporting but just so folks are aware, joining us today as our speaker is [Senior State Department Official].  Again, we’ll do this call on background from Senior State Department Officials, and it will also be under embargo till 2:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, Saturday, April 20th.  We’ll have some time for questions at the end, but I want to go ahead and pass it over to [Senior State Department Official] to kick us off.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, [Moderator], and good afternoon,  everyone.  Really delighted to be with you.  I wanted to let you know that Secretary Blinken will travel to the People’s Republic of China April 24 through 26.  He will meet with senior PRC officials in both Shanghai and Beijing.  The Secretary will be joined by Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Liz Allen, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Todd Robinson, and Ambassador at Large for Cyberspace and Digital Policy Nathaniel Fick.

The Secretary’s visit will, of course, build on our intensive diplomacy over the past year to responsibly manage the U.S.-China relationship by strengthening lines of communication to reduce the risk of miscalculation and conflict.  The Secretary’s trip will follow President Biden and President Xi’s summit meeting in Woodside, California in November, National Security Advisor Sullivan’s meeting with Director and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bangkok in January, DHS Secretary Mayorkas’s meeting with MPS Minister Wang Xiaohong in Vienna in February, Secretary Blinken’s meeting with Director and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Munich in February, Treasury Secretary Yellen’s trip to Guangzhou and Beijing earlier this month, and Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink and NSC Senior Director Beran’s recent meetings in Beijing.

We are in a different place than we were a year ago, when the bilateral relationship was at an historic low point.  We have set out to stabilize the bilateral relationship without sacrificing our capacity to strengthen our alliances, compete vigorously, and defend our interests.  We also believe, and we have also clearly demonstrated, that responsibly managing competition does not mean we will pull back from measures to protect U.S. national interests.

The Secretary has three primary objectives for his trip to China: first, making progress on key issues; second, clearly and directly communicating concerns on bilateral, regional, and global issues; and third, responsibly managing competition, again, so that it does not result in miscalculation or conflict.  We’ve grounded these objectives in the administration’s approach to the PRC, which you have heard many times, of course, and that’s namely our invest, align, and compete strategy.  We’ve made significant progress on each pillar of our strategy, and we believe that our doing so has strengthened our competitive position.

We’ve invested in the foundations of American strength with historic legislation on infrastructure, chips and science, and clean energy.  We have reinvigorated our network of alliances and partnerships.  I think many of you know these elements of our strategy well, but I do want to draw attention to some of the remarkable things we’ve achieved with our allies and partners really just over the past several weeks.  For example, just two weeks ago Secretary Blinken was in Brussels, where he joined the sixth U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, and then consulted at NATO with foreign ministers on our collective security, including those regarding our shared challenges with the PRC.

Last week here in Washington, the United States hosted Japanese Prime Minister Kishida at the White House for a state visit, as well as the first-ever trilateral leaders’ summit between the U.S., Japan, and the Philippines.  And this week in Capri, the Secretary and other G7 foreign ministers discussed supporting Ukraine against Russia’s war of aggression, addressing the crisis in the Middle East, stabilizing Haiti, and deepening partnerships around the world on issues of mutual interest.

I would also note that the UN General Assembly has adopted by consensus in the last month a U.S.-led resolution on artificial intelligence, co-sponsored by more than 120 member states, marking the first time that UN member states have spoken with one voice to define a global consensus on safe, secure, and trustworthy AI systems for advancing sustainable development.

At the same time, we have continued to take actions to protect our interests and values, ranging from steps to protect our data, our critical infrastructure, addressing the unlevel playing field for U.S. workers and companies created by the PRC’s nonmarket practices, and ensuring that advanced and sensitive technologies that our companies are developing do not become a source of vulnerability.

We will build on the momentum of the successes we have achieved, and we will keep working to manage our competition with the PRC responsibly.  We believe that investing in our strengths at home and strengthening our alliances abroad have helped create the conditions for more effective diplomacy with the PRC.

Now let me say just a little bit more about each of the Secretary’s three goals for this trip. First, making progress on key issues.  We believe that high-level diplomacy allows for us to press for progress on issues that matter to the American people and the world and where direct engagement with the PRC is particularly important.  For example, in Shanghai and Beijing, the Secretary will focus on implementing the leaders’ commitments in San Francisco to advance cooperation on issues such as counternarcotics, bolster mil-mil communication, and establish talks on artificial intelligence risks and safety.  The Secretary will also explore ways to strengthen people-to-people ties.  And of course, Under Secretary Allen, Assistant Secretary Robinson, and Ambassador Fick will help lead our efforts on these key issues.

We have seen initial progress, of course, and good momentum coming out of San Francisco, but we recognize that implementation is key, and that will require assiduous follow-up in the weeks and months ahead.

Second, the Secretary will clearly and directly communicate U.S. concerns on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues.  As he always does, he will stand up and speak out for our values and our interests.  The Secretary will raise clearly and candidly our concerns on issues ranging from human rights, unfair economic and trade practices, to the global economic consequences of PRC industrial over-capacity.  The Secretary will also reiterate our deep concerns regarding the PRC’s support for Russia’s defense industrial base.  He will discuss the crisis in the Middle East, and of course, the Secretary will discuss challenges in the Indo-Pacific, including PRC provocations in the South China Sea, as well as the DPRK’s threatening rhetoric and reckless actions.  He will also discuss the crisis in Burma.  The Secretary will also reaffirm the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

And third and finally, the Secretary will make clear that the United States intends to responsibly manage our competition with the PRC.  We believe that intense competition requires intense diplomacy on a range of issues, and in-depth, face-to-face diplomacy is particularly important to managing tensions endemic to strategic competition between two major powers.  As we continue to take actions to protect our interests and values, we’ll maintain open channels of communication to clearly communicate our positions and policies so as to, again, prevent misperception or miscalculation.

I want to make clear that we are realistic and clear-eyed about the prospects of breakthroughs on any of these issues, but we will continue to use diplomacy to communicate our positions and policies, clear up misperceptions, and underscore that we will continue to take actions to protect our national security and economy.  Our primary focus is not solely on deliverables, but rather to have candid, direct, and constructive discussions that defend U.S. national interests and, again, prevent miscalculation.

We expect additional high-level diplomacy and interactions to occur in the coming weeks and months.  I want to assure you that the United States is committed to responsibly managing our competition with China, and we know that that’s what the world expects of us.

So [Moderator], let me stop there.  I’ll turn back to you for questions and answers.  Thanks very much.

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much, everybody.  I really, really appreciate it.  If you have a question, please use the raise hand function on your Zoom interface, and we’ll get through as many questions as we can.  Why don’t we first start with Shaun Tandon from AFP.

QUESTION:  Hey [Senior State Department Official], and thanks for doing this.  Hope you’re doing well.  Could I follow up on a couple of the concerns that you said will be raised?  Russia and Ukraine.  Are there specific asks the Secretary will have?  I know that more generally there have been concerns about building up the Russian industrial base, defense industrial base.  Are there specific asks, things that he’ll be asking China to do or not to do, regarding that?  And how receptive do you think they have been, maybe in the PRC, to that so far about the U.S. concerns on Russia?

And also on Taiwan, I know there are the usual lines on Taiwan, but the inauguration is coming up with the new president.  Are there any asks of China in terms of keeping stability during that period?  Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Shaun, nice to hear from you.  Thanks for your questions.  Look, I think it’s safe to say both of the issues that you raised will feature prominently during the discussions that the Secretary will have in Beijing.  I think you’ll see that the Secretary even today has spoken, together with his G7 foreign ministerial counterparts, about the depth of our concern about the transfers to Russia from businesses in the PRC of a range of dual-use materials and weapons components that Russia is using to advance its military production.  And of course, the concern there is that through Chinese support, Russia has largely reconstituted its defense industrial base, which has an impact not just on the battlefield in Ukraine but poses a larger threat, we believe, to broader European security.  So that’s deeply concerning to us.  We’ll express those concerns to China and we will express our intent to have China curtail that support which is having – which is starting to pose, of course, such a threat to European security.

Also on cross-strait issues, of course, Shaun, I think you can – you can expect that the Secretary will underscore both in private and public America’s abiding interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.  We think that is vitally important for the region and the world.  And our expectation will be – particularly during this important and sensitive time leading up to the May 20 inauguration – that all countries will contribute to peace and stability, avoid taking provocative actions that may raise tensions, and demonstrate restraint.  That will be our message going forward.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Let’s next go to the line of Nike Ching with Voice of America.

QUESTION:  Thank you, good afternoon. Thank you so much for this pre-call briefing.  I would like to ask schedule, some housekeeping thing.  Is the meeting between Secretary Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping expected in Beijing next Friday?

And then a follow-up on China’s providing material support for Russia.  Senior officials have renewed warnings to China against helping Russia’s defense industrial base.  What leverage does the U.S. have to follow through its warning that it is prepared to take further steps as necessary?

And finally, if I may, is there any indication that China will use its influence over Iran to prevent escalation in the Middle East or do you think it’s under control now and there is no need for China to weigh in?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Thank you, Nike.  Nice to hear from you.  Look, on the schedule, Nike, I think – I think we’ll have more to share on the specifics of the Secretary’s schedule as we get a little bit closer to the visit itself.  As I did indicate, the Secretary will go both to Shanghai and Beijing, and of course I think it’s safe for you to expect that he’ll spend considerable time with his counterpart Director and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.  But I think beyond that, we’ll provide additional information at a later date.  But here’s what I will say:  We are confident that our Chinese hosts will arrange a productive and constructive visit, and we’re very grateful to them for their efforts to do so and the hospitality that we know that they will provide.

On your question – I believe your second question was about the – Chinese support for the Russian defense industrial base.  Look, Nike, I don’t have anything specific to announce to you today, but I’ll just underscore that as you’ve seen us demonstrate over the past many weeks and months, we’re committed to taking the steps necessary to defend our national interests, and we’re prepared to take steps when we believe necessary against firms that are taking steps in contravention to our interests and in ways that – as we’ve indicated here – severely undermine security in both Ukraine and Europe.  And I think we’ve demonstrated our willingness to do so regarding firms from a number of countries, not just China.  And at any rate, again, I think this will be a key issue of discussion while we’re in Beijing.

And then finally you asked about Iran.  I’ll just underscore here that, of course, we have been in contact with Chinese counterparts.  Secretary Blinken has had the opportunity to be in touch with Wang Yi, and others of us have had the opportunity to interact with Chinese interlocutors.  And I think we’ve underscored to them the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Middle East, the need for all sides to show restraint, and of course we’ve asked – we’ve expressed our interest in China to use whatever channels or influence it has to try to convey the need for restraint to all parties, including Iran.  And I think you’ve seen in China’s own public readouts that they in fact have engaged with Iranian counterparts and have called for restraint.

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Let’s next go to Michael Birnbaum with The Washington Post.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Sorry, I was muted.  Thanks for doing this.  Just —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Michael, I seem to have lost you.

QUESTION:  Can you hear me?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Now you’re back.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Sorry about that.  Question about the Russia-China thing.  I mean – I guess I – I’m just trying to understand what kind of assurances or thoughts you can give us that China will actually listen to you in terms of trying to – you’re trying to get it to restrict its helping the Russian defense industrial base.  I mean, you mentioned the potential of kind of negative consequences for Chinese companies.  Is there any – are there any carrots that you’re offering them, the government or companies, loosening restrictions on other things if they’ll go along with your requests?  I mean, it just seems like the overall context is one in which the relations between China and the U.S. are not particularly good, you have a lot of restrictions already in place, and so I guess I’m just wondering how you think you’ll manage to make a difference in these talks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Well, Michael, I do appreciate the candid question.  Look, here’s what I would say:  Certainly, as I tried to outline in my opening comments, we do place a value on our diplomacy with the PRC, including because it’s really the only way to effectively convey, I think, in detail and clearly the depth of our concerns on a range of issues, including on China’s support for the Russian defense industrial base.  And I think we’ll be prepared to lay out why we have those concerns, the implications of that support and what it means for European security in particular, and then, of course, it will be up to China to determine its next steps.

I think the only point that I would add here, which I think will play an important role as well, is obviously friends in Europe are also deeply concerned about the implications of China’s support for the Russian defense industrial base.  I think you see those concerns coming out of the G7 foreign ministerial today, and my expectation is that friends in Europe will have opportunities to express those concerns both in public and private to Chinese friends as well.  So I think our objective will be to clearly make the case what the implications are of this support and why that may in fact not be in China’s interest going forward.

MODERATOR:  Let’s next go to Simon Lewis with Reuters.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thanks, [Moderator], and hi, [Senior State Department Official].  Firstly, since Todd Robinson is on the trip, I wonder if you could talk a bit about what you’re hoping to achieve on fentanyl, and particularly whether you’ll be raising some of the concerns that have been raised by the House of Representatives this week regarding China sort of effectively subsidizing fentanyl substances.  Is that something that you would – you will raise directly and whether – and that you might hope to get some action on?

And secondly, [Senior State Department Official], I just wondered if – you mentioned that the crisis in Burma will come up.  I wonder what kind of help you are asking the Chinese for to try to resolve that crisis.  Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Simon, thanks very much for your question.  I missed a little bit at the beginning, but I think I understood the two questions to be first on fentanyl and then on the crisis in Burma.

Look, on fentanyl, I think, obviously, the Secretary will be prepared to raise this issue as one of the most important issues on the U.S.-China agenda today, both because of the incredibly harmful impact that fentanyl and these – and the role that chemical precursors play in the synthetization of fentanyl and what that means.  Again, fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans 18 to 49.  So as the President had done – excuse me – as the President had done in Woodside, we’ll underscore how important this issue is to the United States.  We’ll underscore why we believe it’s in China’s interests to cooperate in reducing and ending the flow of chemical precursors to the United States, and given the agreements that were reached at Woodside, we’ll focus primarily on follow-up.  And I think the key there, I would say, Simon, is making sure that we get down to detailed implementation of the agreement, particularly between our respective law enforcement agencies, and that’s what we’re focused on: implementation and concrete progress to curb the flow of these chemical precursors.

I think regarding the crisis in Burma, I would just say it is in no one’s interest to see the potential of a failed state in the heart of Southeast Asia.  I think it’s clear that the United States and China have a shared interest in trying to preserve peace and stability in Southeast Asia.  We have, I think, a shared interest in trying to reduce the level of violence in Southeast Asia, and we’ll – the level of violence in Myanmar in particular, and I think we’ll make clear as well that U.S. policy is predicated not just on taking steps to compel the regime to reduce and end violence, but also to release prisoners and increase the flow of humanitarian assistance into Burma.  So I think – I would anticipate the Secretary will be prepared to lay out what our policy is, to lay out the areas where we think we have a shared interest, and to see if at a minimum we can ensure that we’re not working at cross purposes or if perhaps there is a way that we could together contribute to those shared goals in Burma.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Let’s next go to Michael Gordon with The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  One and a half questions, a follow-up and then a question.

You mentioned the effort the U.S. has made to reach out to European nations on China’s support for Russian defense industry and its rehabilitation that began with Secretary Blinken’s trip to Europe in the early part of the month, his meeting with Macron, April 4th foreign ministers meeting, and now again with Capri.  So my question is:  What specific actions are the Europeans telling you they are prepared to take as a result of your consciousness-raising initiative here?

And my second question is in November the director-general of the Chinese Department of Arms Control met with Mallory Stewart to engage in a dialogue on arms control and nonproliferation measures.  What progress has been made since then, if any, in advancing this dialogue either in discussions or specific steps on the Chinese side?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Michael, thanks for your question.  Look, on Chinese support for the Russian defense industrial base, I think all I’ll say is that obviously European partners as much as anyone have a vested interest in doing everything possible to reduce Chinese support of Russia that’s having such a negative effect on European security.  So, and I think you saw – as I indicated earlier, I think you saw coming out of some of the statements from the G7 foreign ministerial today that I think our European partners obviously share these concerns.  And our goal will be to work collaboratively going forward to share those concerns with China and work towards a reduction of that – of that support.

On the – on interaction with Chinese counterparts responsible for arms control, I don’t have anything on that with me.  I think it might be safer for me to get back to you, consult with my colleague Mallory.  But look, I mean, I’ll just say in general terms we do have a number of specific interactions with Chinese counterparts designed – designed to advance our shared interests and protect U.S. national interests.  Certainly, we have a range of concerns about certain elements of the Chinese military buildup, but as for that specific interaction I’d have to get back to you on any further details.  I’m happy to do that.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Let’s next go to Laura Kelly.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks – oh, hi, thanks so much for taking my question.  I’m wondering if you can talk about what needs to happen for the State Department to lower its Level 3 travel warning for China, and if any steps on that are looking to be taken in the near future or at all.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Laura, thanks very much for the question.  Look, I think, again, all I’ll say here in general terms is the United States takes very seriously its responsibility.  This is our top – I would argue perhaps our most important – responsibility, which is to do everything possible to ensure the safety and security of American citizens overseas.

When we are aware of conditions in a country that we both believe pose a risk to American citizen residents or travelers to those countries, we have an obligation to make clear what those risks are.  And the current travel advisory warning for the PRC is based on a range of concerns about how Chinese law has been applied in a certain sector, about the detention of certain American citizens, and other cases that have caused us concern.

So we’re very clear and transparent and public about that.  We’ve raised those concerns with Chinese counterparts – again, raised concerns about specific cases involving detentions and exit bans, raised concerns about the opaque and arbitrary application of certain national security laws, and we’ll continue to raise those concerns.  I’m confident that the Secretary will raise these concerns while he’s in China.  And it is the case, really with any country around the world, if we find that those conditions – those concerns, rather, are addressed, and through addressing those concerns there’s a material impact on the conditions that resulted in that warning level, we’ll, of course, re-evaluate and, as appropriate, adjust.

But really, this is a pretty rigorous process.  The focus is on safety and security of the American citizen traveling public, and that’ll be our focus going forward.  But I’m confident these issues will be discussed while the Secretary is in China.  Thanks very much.

MODERATOR:  All right, let’s – we’ve got time for one last question, and let’s go to Lalit Jha with the Press Trust of India.

QUESTION:  Yeah, thank you for doing this.  I wanted to ask you about – recently India’s foreign secretary was here, and I guess China was one of the major conversation between the two countries.  Would Secretary during his meetings would raise the concern that China’s neighbors has with China regarding the incursion to the border – borders and in causing other activities with its neighbors?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Lalit, thanks very much for your question.  Look, I think this is what I would say in response to your question.  Look, we continue to underscore that as the United States of America we stand for the respect of international law, for the peaceful resolution of disputes, for ensuring that territorial – territorial disputes are resolved peacefully, and that any and all territorial claims are rooted in international law.  And in instances where, whether it’s China or any other countries act in ways in contravention of international law or act in aggressive ways that are escalatory or coercive, we are, of course – we are, of course, going to speak out against such actions.  But again, the focus from our perspective is the importance of maintaining peace and stability and the peaceful resolution of such disputes.

And I guess the only other thing that I would add is that we certainly stand for investing in the collective capacity of our friends, partners, and allies so that all friends and partners have the ability to defend their own national interests.  And I think through that process, we actually believe – we believe that doing so contributes to stability, which is in our collective interest going forward.

I’ll also just underscore, as we often say, the United States of America is not in the business of asking friends and partners to choose between the United States and China, but we do want to ensure that partners always have the ability to make their own choices and their own sovereign decisions free from coercion.  That’s what we stand for, and we continue to make that clear at every opportunity.  Thanks for your question.

MODERATOR:  All right, everybody.  Thanks so much for joining us today.  Again, just a reiteration of the ground rules:  This call was on background, attributable to senior State Department officials, and it is under embargo till 2 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, Saturday, April 20th.  Thanks again, everybody.  Really appreciate it.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/senior-state-department-official-previewing-secretary-blinkens-upcoming-travel-to-the-peoples-republic-of-china/

originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS