Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 6 February 2021


Antony Blinken blasts China in first phone call

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state: ‘I made clear the US will defend our national interests, stand up for our democratic values’ © Bloomberg

Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, warned China that Washington would hold Beijing “accountable for its abuses”, in the first high-level interaction between the countries since Joe Biden became president.

Following a call with Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, Blinken said he had told his counterpart that the Biden administration would stand up for democratic values while holding Beijing to account.

“I made clear the US will defend our national interests, stand up for our democratic values, and hold Beijing accountable for its abuses of the international system,” Blinken tweeted on Friday night in Washington.

The state department said he told Yang that the US would press China over its human rights record in the Xinjiang and Tibet regions and in Hong Kong. He also he urged Beijing to condemn the military coup in Myanmar.

Blinken added that Biden would work with allies to hold China “accountable for its efforts to threaten stability in the Indo-Pacific, including . . . the Taiwan Strait and its undermining of the rules-based international system”.

China’s official readout of the call gave little indication of Blinken’s criticism. It said that Yang urged the US to redress what it described as recent mistakes, “act constructively” in the Asia Pacific and not interfere in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.

“No one can stop the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Yang told Blinken, according to a statement on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website.

Blinken’s warning follows a series of tough statements from the Biden administration over the past two weeks that suggest that the new president intends to pursue a hawkish policy towards Beijing.

Speaking at the state department this week, Biden said that “American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the US”.

In a virtual speech to an American audience on Monday, Yang blamed the dismal state of US-China relations on the recent Trump administration and said ties between the countries had reached a “key moment”.

While he expressed a desire for the two countries to improve relations in an address to the National Committee on US-China Relations, he warned Washington not to cross any “red lines” and told the Biden team not to interfere in Chinese policy towards Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang.

Since Biden’s inauguration, his team has called the repression of Uighurs in north-west Xinjiang province “genocide”, and told China to stop intimidating Taiwan after Chinese fighter jets and bombers entered the country’s air defence zone and simulated attacks on a US aircraft carrier group.

The White House has stressed that it will take a patient approach towards its China policy and will consult allies in an effort to craft a more co-ordinated way to tackle challenges posed by China.

Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, last week said Biden was prepared to “impose costs for what China is doing in Xinjiang, what it is doing in Hong Kong, for the bellicosity and threats that it is projecting towards Taiwan”.

Before Biden was inaugurated, Sullivan also slammed China for attacking freedom in Hong Kong with its campaign to clamp down on the city’s pro-democracy movement with the arrests of dozens of peaceful activists.

In another sign that Biden will keep a vigilant stance towards China, the USS John McCain, a warship, this week sailed through international waters in the Taiwan Strait, the first such move under the new administration. 

The People’s Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command on Saturday accused the vessel of disrupting the “positive atmosphere” in the South China Sea as it sailed near the Spratly Islands, which China claims as the Nansha Islands, after leaving the Taiwan Strait.

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