Blinken Sees US-China Relationship as ‘Biggest Geopolitical Test of the 21st Century’

Blinken Sees US-China Relationship as ‘Biggest Geopolitical Test of the 21st Century’
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks about priorities for administration of U.S. President Joe Biden in the Ben Franklin room at the State Department in Washington, on March 3, 2021. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Cathy He

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 3 listed managing the United States’ relationship with the Chinese regime as a top priority of the Biden administration, describing it as “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.”

Blinken, in his first speech outlining the Biden administration’s foreign policy strategy, said the challenge posed by the Chinese regime is different from those posed by other countries such as Russia and North Korea.

“China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system—all the rules, values, and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to,” he said in a speech at the State Department.

Among the administration’s top priorities listed by Blinken, U.S.–China relations was the only one that was specifically directed toward another country.

“Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be,” Blinken said. “The common denominator is the need to engage China from a position of strength.”

The Biden administration is currently reviewing the full suite of Trump-era policies aimed at countering a range of threats posed by the Chinese regime and has yet to announce any specific policy actions. While confronting the China challenge enjoys bipartisan support, the Biden administration faces heavy pressure from Republicans to continue policies that are tough on China.

The Chinese regime, meanwhile, has demanded the Biden administration undo Trump’s hardline China policies, and not “interfere” in what the regime calls “red line” issues, such as its human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, the crackdown in Hong Kong, and military aggression toward Taiwan. The Trump administration in January designated the Chinese regime’s atrocities in Xinjiang a genocide.

Blinken said the United States would work with allies to confront the regime in Beijing, an approach the administration has described as a point of difference from the Trump administration.

“It requires engaging in diplomacy, and in international organizations, because where we pull back, China has filled in,” he said.

Former Trump officials, however, have rejected the characterization that the administration acted too unilaterally, saying it did build alliances to push back against Chinese threats, but also wasn’t afraid to go it alone when it suited U.S. interests. They said the United States’ withdrawal from international bodies including the World Health Organization and the UN Human Rights Council was due to systemic failings that were beyond reform, despite U.S. attempts.

Both of those moves have been reversed by the Biden administration.

Blinken said the administration’s approach also “requires standing up for our values when human rights are abused in Xinjiang or when democracy is trampled in Hong Kong.”

“Because if we don’t, China will act with even greater impunity,” he said.

Blinken highlighted out-competing China by “investing in American workers, companies, and insisting on a level playing field.”

Without specifically mentioning China, he also said the administration would “use every tool to stop countries from stealing our intellectual property or manipulating their currencies to get an unfair advantage.”

The Trump administration attempted to force the Chinese regime to reform a spate of unfair trade practices through the U.S.–China trade war, which resulted in the phase one trade deal signed in January of 2020. While the Chinese regime so far has fallen short of its purchase commitments under the agreement, the Biden administration hasn’t signaled how it would deal with the trade pact.
Cathy He is the politics editor at the Washington D.C. bureau. She was previously an editor for U.S.-China and a reporter covering U.S.-China relations.
Related Topics