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Secretary of State Blinken spells out the Biden administration's approach to China

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The war in Ukraine is dominating much of the attention of the State Department these days. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the United States is also focused on what he calls an even larger threat to the U.S.-led international order - China. Blinken laid out the Biden administration's China strategy today in a much-anticipated speech. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Blinken calls China the most serious long-term challenge to the international order and a test for U.S. diplomacy.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: The Biden administration strategy can be summed up in three words - invest, align, compete.

KELEMEN: Invest at home, align with allies and partners and compete with China to promote America's view of what the world order should be. He went out of his way in his speech, hosted by the Asia Society and George Washington University, to explain what this is not.

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BLINKEN: We are not looking for conflict or a new Cold War; to the contrary. We're determined to avoid both. We don't seek to block China from its role as a major power, nor to stop China or any other country, for that matter, from growing their economy or advancing the interests of their people.

KELEMEN: China accuses the U.S. of doing just that. The secretary of state says the U.S. is ready to increase its communications with Beijing on a range of issues but warns that China is trying to reshape the international order, and it has the economic, military and technological power to do it.

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BLINKEN: Under President Xi, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad.

KELEMEN: While the speech didn't break new ground, Daniel Russel of the Asia Society says there is value in explaining U.S. policy to the American public. And he says the Biden team's approach is a break from the Trump administration.

DANIEL RUSSEL: The approach that Tony Blinken laid out is a values-based approach, not a smash-and-grab, transactional approach.

KELEMEN: One key difference, Russel says, is the focus on partnerships in Asia and in Europe.

RUSSEL: Working in tandem with other nations, working with and through international organizations and so on - these things couldn't be further from the approach that the Trump administration took.

KELEMEN: U.S. and European views on China are converging, says Bonnie Glaser, who runs the Asia program at The German Marshall Fund. But she says the allies are not on the same page on every issue from trade to security.

BONNIE GLASER: People here are focused, for example, on the potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan in a way that Europe is not. Do they care about peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait? Absolutely. But, you know, it is not their top priority.

KELEMEN: President Biden has said that the U.S. would come to Taiwan's defense if China attacks. Glaser says that's causing confusion.

GLASER: There have been several Chinese that have been quoted as saying that the United States is testing Beijing's bottom line on Taiwan. I don't think that's true, but I think it's dangerous that China thinks so.

KELEMEN: Glaser says the Biden administration needs to clear up some of the confusion and be clear with the American public, maybe with a whole new speech on that subject. In his remarks today, Secretary Blinken insisted that America's policy on Taiwan has been consistent. The U.S. has strong relations with the self-governed island, he said, but doesn't support its independence.

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BLINKEN: While our policy has not changed, what has changed is Beijing's growing coercion, like trying to cut off Taiwan's relations with countries around the world and blocking it from participating in international organizations.

KELEMEN: And just as many countries have come together to oppose Russia's aggression in Ukraine, Blinken is hoping more will join the U.S. to counter China's attempts to reshape the world order.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.