US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN that the US is attempting to strengthen “lines of communication” with China to avoid conflict between the two superpowers.
“We are working to put some stability into the relationship, to put a floor under the relationship, to make sure that the competition that we’re in doesn’t veer into conflict,” Blinken told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview that aired Sunday. A conflict, the secretary added, “would not be in our interest, their interest, or anyone else’s.”
Blinken, who was speaking on the sidelines of the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, made a highly anticipated trip to China last month, becoming the first secretary of state to travel to the country in five years and the most senior US official to make such a mission since President Joe Biden took office in 2021. His visit was followed by similar trips by other high-level Biden administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and US climate envoy John Kerry.
“We weren’t doing a lot of talking before. Now we are. We have different groups that are engaged, or about to engage, on discrete issues … that are problems … in the relationship where I believe we can, I think, get to a resolution,” Blinken said. “Now these are early days. The proof will be in the results.”
After days of talks with senior Chinese officials in Beijing, Blinken touted that “progress” had been made toward steering relations back on track.
The two global powers have been increasingly at loggerheads over a host of issues ranging from Beijing’s close ties with Moscow to American efforts to limit the sale of advanced technologies to China.
Earlier this year, a Chinese surveillance balloon that was detected floating across the US and hovering over sensitive military sites before ultimately being shot down by an American fighter plane sent relations plunging to a new low and resulted in Blinken scrapping an earlier Beijing visit.
“I was very clear with my Chinese counterparts,” Blinken told Zakaria, referring to his trip last month. “We will continue to do and say things that China will not like just as they’re going to continue to do and say things we won’t like.”
“The test for us is whether we can manage our way through that, to make sure that we sustain these lines of communication, that we continue to talk, and that we work on, as I said, both dealing with the differences and seeing if we can cooperate,” the secretary said.
CNN previously reported that one of the key issues that did not get resolved during Blinken’s trip was the restoration of military-to-military communications between US and China. Contacts between the countries’ top military officials remain frozen, and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu continues to be under US sanction dating back to 2018 over the purchase of Russian weapons by China’s Equipment Development Department, which Li was in charge of at the time.
Asked by Zakaria whether the US should lift the penalty to alleviate tensions, Blinken said, “Those sanctions don’t prevent the minister from engaging or us engaging with him,” adding that “it is a political decision, in effect, for China to decide whether or not he should be engaging.”
China rejected a meeting between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Shangfu during a security forum in Singapore earlier this year, although the two did speak briefly.
“We’ve made very clear that we think it’s a responsibility to have these military-to-military contacts, to have this dialogue, especially to avoid any miscalculations, any misperceptions of what we’re each doing,” Blinken said. “So, we’ll see where China comes out on this.”
On the Ukraine front, Blinken told Zakaria that Russia has “already lost” the war “in terms of what Russia sought to achieve and what (Vladimir) Putin sought to achieve.”
“The objective was to erase Ukraine from the map, to eliminate its independence, its sovereignty, to subsume it into Russia. That failed a long time ago,” the secretary said.
Blinken acknowledged that Ukraine’s mission to regain territory captured by Moscow would be “a very hard fight.” He predicted that the war – which recently surpassed the 500 days mark – would continue for “several months.”
However, he said, along with the aid, military equipment and training Ukraine is receiving from various countries, Kyiv’s cause represents “the decisive element.”
“Unlike the Russians, Ukrainians are fighting for their land, for their future, for their country, for their freedom,” Blinken said.