(CNSNews.com) – The United States does not seek “conflict or a new Cold War,” but will rally a broad coalition of nations to confront “the most serious long-term challenge to the international order” – the one posed by China, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.
“The People’s Republic of China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do it,” Blinken said in a speech at George Washington University.
Rather than work to uphold and strengthen the post-World War II rules, principles and institutions that China has most benefited from, he said, “Beijing is undermining them.”
“Under President Xi, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad.”
In the “decisive” decade ahead, Blinken said, the administration’s strategy will focus on investing in U.S. infrastructure, innovation, and democracy; aligning with allies and partners to face the China challenge; and working to outcompete China.
Blinken said while the U.S. hoped to be able to increase direct communication with Beijing across a range of issues, “we cannot rely on Beijing to change its trajectory.”
“So we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open, inclusive international system.”
In early reaction to the speech, the Chinese Communist Party organ Global Times said in an editorial that while Blinken says the U.S. does not want a new Cold War with China, the U.S. “says one thing and does another.”
“On many occasions, the U.S. has talked a lot about ‘avoiding a new Cold War,’ but in practice, it has divided the camp with ideology and arbitrarily asked other countries to choose sides,” it said. “Isn’t this sounding the horn for a ‘new Cold War?’”
The editorial drew attention to President Biden’s recent Asia trip, where he marshaled regional U.S. allies and others in the “Quad” security partnership and the newly-launched Indo-Pacific economic framework (IPEF). In Beijing’s view both initiatives are designed to target, exclude, and contain China.
China steps up Pacific outreach
The policy speech, postponed for three weeks after Blinken tested positive for COVID-19, comes at a time when China has increasingly aligned itself with Russia, as seen most starkly in its defense of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
It also coincided with start of a tour of seven Pacific island states by his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
After Biden’s Asia trip, China is doing some rallying of its own, setting off alarm bells in the U.S. and allied nations by proposing security and economic agreements that will enhance its influence in a strategically-important region.
According to a draft obtained by the Associated Press, China is proposing that ten Pacific nations, including the Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea, endorse what Beijing is calling a Common Development Vision – a broad iniative involving agreements in areas including security, fisheries, and culture and education.
With a delegation of dozens of officials, Wang’s tour began Thursday in Solomon Islands, where China has already concluded a security pact that the U.S. and Australia worry could allow for the future deployment of Chinese armed forces.
Wang said after meeting with his Solomon Islands counterpart that the security pact was not “targeted at any third party” and that China has “no intention at all” of building military bases there.
(A leaked draft of the pact said, “China may, according to its own needs and with the consent of the Solomon Islands, make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in Solomon Islands, and the relevant forces of China can be used to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands,”)
Beijing has batted away accusations that its dealings in Solomon Islands are not transparent, but local journalists decided to boycott a joint “press conference” with the Chinese visitor because the stipulated arrangements limited Wang to taking one question – from Chinese state television.
After other stops, Wang will visit Fiji, where on May 30 he is due to meet with the foreign ministers of all ten countries China hopes to drawn into its Common Development Vision.
Australia’s new prime minister dispatched Foreign Minister Penny Wong, also just days into her job, to Fiji ahead of Wang’s arrival.
She pledged that Australia would be “a critical development partner for the Pacific family in the years ahead,” and underlined that partnership with Australia “doesn’t come with strings attached” or with the imposition of “unsustainable financial burdens.”
Western governments say China’s economic and diplomatic outreach, through its massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure program, does come with strings attached, and ends up imposing unsustainable debt burdens on poor countries.
In his speech in Washington, Blinken alluded to these concerns about the costs to smaller or poorer countries of BRI projects.
He said U.S. diplomacy as it relates to the challenge posed by China “is not about forcing countries to choose.”
“It’s about giving them a choice, so that, for example, the only option isn’t an opaque investment that leaves countries in debt, stokes corruption, harms the environment, fails to create local jobs or growth, and compromises countries’ exercise of their sovereignty,” he said.
“We’ve heard firsthand about buyer’s remorse that these deals can leave behind.”
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