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Blinken to say China strategy is about rules-based order, not 'new Cold War'

Kitco News

WASHINGTON, May 26 (Reuters) - The United States does not seek to sever China from the global economy, but wants Beijing to adhere to international rules, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to say in a long-awaited speech on Thursday.

Washington will not block China from growing its economy or advancing the interests of its people, Blinken is set to say, according to State Department excerpts from the speech outlining U.S. strategy to deal with the country's rise as a great power.

But it will defend and strengthen international law and institutions that maintain peace and security and make it possible for countries – including the United States and China – to coexist and cooperate, he will say.

"We aren't looking for conflict or a new Cold War. To the contrary, we're determined to avoid both," Blinken will say in the speech at George Washington University.

U.S.-China relations sank to their lowest level in decades under the Trump administration and have soured further under President Joe Biden, who has so far kept up his predecessor's sweeping tariffs on Chinese goods, but also has pursued closer ties with allies in the Indo-Pacific and beyond to push back on Beijing's growing influence.

Nonetheless, seventeen months into his administration, Biden, a Democrat, has faced criticism from Republicans and some foreign policy watchers for not announcing a formal strategy on China, the world's second-largest economy after the United States and Washington's main strategic rival.

Foreign crises, including the messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year and Russia's war in Ukraine, have created distractions for Biden, who has vowed not to let China surpass the United States as global leader on his watch.

But his administration has sought to capitalize on fresh solidarity with allies spurred by the Ukraine crisis and the "no-limits" partnership China announced with Moscow just weeks before the Feb. 24 invasion.

Blinken's speech coincides with the start of a sweeping tour by China's foreign minister of Pacific island countries, an increasingly tense front in competition for influence between Beijing and Washington and its allies. read more

He will say Washington's "unwavering focus" remains on the Indo-Pacific and China, senior U.S. officials told reporters.

REPRESSIVE AND AGGRESSIVE

Washington has long complained of what it says are China's unfair trade practices, such as state-led subsidies and market access barriers, as well as its increasing economic coercion toward other countries.

While Blinken will credit the hard work of the Chinese people for their country's historic economic transformation in the last four decades, he also will take aim at China's leader Xi Jinping.

"Under President Xi, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad," he will say, adding that the party was using its power to undermine the principles and institutions that enabled its success.

In the speech, he will lay out the contours of a strategy to invest in U.S. competitiveness and align with allies and partners to compete with China.

Blinken will also underscore that the United States "will not trade cooperation in these areas for compromise on our principles," senior U.S. official told reporters.

"We can't rely on Beijing to change its trajectory. So we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open and inclusive international system," Blinken is set to say.

Increased U.S. support for the Chinese-claimed democratic island of Taiwan remains a point of contention, even though the United States, formally, has kept its long-standing policy of strategic ambiguity on whether it would defend Taiwan militarily.

Blinken will reiterate U.S. commitment to the one-China policy, according to officials, even though Biden earlier this week said the United States would get involved militarily should China attack Taiwan. He and his aides later said his remarks did not reflect a shift in policy. read more

Under the one-China policy, Washington officially recognizes Beijing diplomatically, not Taipei, although it is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

Blinken's address was postponed once after he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in May and follows a month of intensive U.S. diplomacy focused on the Indo-Pacific, including Biden's first trip as president to the region.

The president's meetings there with leaders from South Korea, Japan, India, and Australia were intended, in part, to push back against China's growing influence. read more

Biden also has sought to create fresh momentum in ties with Southeast Asia, declaring a "new era" of relations at a summit in Washington this month. read more

Reporting by Michael Martina, Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Stephen Coates and Howard Goller
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