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"Profound differences" remain between U.S. and China, Secretary Blinken tells NPR

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference at the Beijing American Center of the US Embassy in Beijing on June 19.
PEDRO PARDO
/
AFP via Getty Images
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference at the Beijing American Center of the US Embassy in Beijing on June 19.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described two days of diplomatic talks in China as "candid, substantive, and constructive," while acknowledging the two superpowers had "profound differences."

Blinken told NPR Morning Edition host Leila Fadel that it was clear the U.S. relationship with China was "unstable" coming into the talks. His comments came at the conclusion of the first trip by an American secretary of state to China since 2018.

"Direct engagement, sustained communication at senior levels, is the best way to responsibly manage our relationship," Blinken added.

Chinese officials have expressed interest in speaking with high-level officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The United States' top diplomat said more talks are expected, but he declined to identify which officials may travel to the country to discuss economic matters in the weeks ahead.

"I'll leave that to the near future," he said.

No resumption of military-to-military cooperation

Blinken said that so far, Beijing has not agreed to resume military-to-military cooperation with the United States, though he said he raised the issue repeatedly during meetings with Chinese officials.

"These military-to-military contacts are hugely important if we're going to avoid an unintentional conflict, and that was only reinforced over the last couple of weeks," Blinken said. "We've seen ... incidents on the seas, in the skies that were really dangerous and, in our judgment, unprofessional." He said the issue remains an "ongoing priority."

The secretary stressed the importance of cooperatively managing the "challenge" of Taiwan, as the two have done "for nearly five decades," especially given Taiwan's important role in global trade.

"If there were to be a crisis over Taiwan, you've got about 50% of the global commercial container traffic that goes through the Taiwan Strait every day. Fifty percent. Half of the world's trade, in effect, goes through there every day," Blinken said.

He added: "You've got about 70% of high-end semiconductors that are produced on Taiwan. If either of those things were taken offline as a result of a crisis, it could have devastating consequences for the global economy, which is why countries around the world are looking with increasing concern at actions that are being taken that could disrupt the status quo."

A China Central Television news broadcast shows footage of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meeting with China's President Xi Jinping, on a giant screen outside a shopping mall in Beijing on June 19, 2023.
GREG BAKER / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
A China Central Television news broadcast shows footage of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meeting with China's President Xi Jinping, on a giant screen outside a shopping mall in Beijing on June 19, 2023.

Managing foreign and domestic interests

Blinken said U.S. officials "have a responsibility to defend, protect and advance the interests of the United States and its people, and that is what motivates us in our relationship with China — and for that matter, with any other country."

But "it would be irresponsible" to not engage with China, as well as "counterproductive to our interests," he added.

Consistent communication is "the best way to avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to conflict," and it's "probably the only way" to get detained Americans back from China, to "produce cooperation on fentanyl," and to "defend the interests of our workers and our companies who are operating in China."

When asked whether China is replacing the United States as a global conflict mediator, particularly in the Middle East, Blinken said that the U.S. "remains far and away the preferred partner" for gulf countries.

"At the same time," he added, "if China takes initiatives that actually help solve problems... that's a good thing, and we support it."

Blinken said some of China's priorities in Ukraine are "very consistent with our own." The U.S. would welcome the country taking a mediator role between Ukraine and Russia as long as their efforts helped establish a "just and durable peace in Ukraine," he added.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ally Schweitzer (she/her) is an editor with NPR's Morning Edition. She joined the show in October 2022 after eight years at WAMU, the NPR affiliate in Washington.
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