by Shaun Tandon

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will call for China to abide by international rules as he delivers a major speech Thursday on America’s relationship with its rival.

Days after President Joe Biden visited Japan and South Korea to shore up key alliances, Blinken will give a long-awaited speech billed as the most comprehensive statement by the administration yet on China.

Antony Blinken. Photo: US Department of State/Ron Przysucha, via Flickr.

In a contrast with the abrasive approach of Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, Blinken will steer clear of talk of a sweeping global conflict and will not ask nations to shun China, officials said.

“This is not about a new Cold War. This is not about dividing the world into rigid ideological blocs,” a senior official said as he previewed the speech.

“It is not about containing or keeping down any power. It is about upholding and, just as importantly, revitalizing the international order in a way that protects core principles that have enabled peace and prosperity for decades — and, indeed, enabled China’s remarkable rise.”

The White House had long mulled whether Biden should deliver the speech but finally decided it would be given by Blinken, part of the administration’s attempt to compete with China but also lower the temperature.

Blinken had been set to deliver the speech, to take place at George Washington University with the Asia Society as host, in early May but postponed it after being diagnosed with Covid-19.

Shifting focus from Russia

Blinken’s speech, Biden’s trip and a first-of-a-kind summit in Washington in early May with Southeast Asian leaders have aimed to show that the United States is still focused on Asia — identified from the start of the administration as a priority — despite months of effort to confront Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

China’s leader Xi Jinping with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2018. Photo: Wikicommons.

The United States believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin presents an “acute, immediate threat” to the international order and that countering him reinforces the message on upholding rules, the official said on customary condition of anonymity.

“China is the one country that has the intention, as well as the economic, technological, military and diplomatic means, to advance a different vision of international order,” the official said.

The Biden administration has repeatedly spoken of pressing China to abide by established rules, including in its conflicts in the dispute-ridden South China Sea and on trade, in which the United States accuses Beijing of widespread theft.

Biden has been seeking to unite allies in the face of China’s rise, unveiling in Tokyo the Asia Pacific Economic Framework billed as coordinating trade policies around the region.

The Biden administration has similarly launched a forum with the European Union to develop technological standards, hoping to prevent China from dominating the 21st century through its rapid gains in artificial intelligence.

Joe Biden. File Photo: Adam Schultz/White House, via Flickr.

Blinken will also voice support for working with China in limited areas where cooperation is seen as feasible, such as on climate change, after diplomacy between the world’s two largest emitters ahead of last year’s Glasgow summit.

But officials said Blinken would not shy away from human rights and would reiterate the US view that Beijing is carrying out genocide against the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority through the mass incarceration of more than one million people.

The speech comes days after Biden made waves at a Tokyo news conference by saying the United States would militarily defend Taiwan, the self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing.

Officials said Blinken would repeat Biden’s later insistence that he was not deviating from longstanding US policy on Taiwan.

The United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. It provides Taiwan weapons for self-defense, all while staying deliberately ambiguous on whether it would intervene militarily in an invasion.

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