QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, welcome back to the NewsHour. Thanks for joining us.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you.
QUESTION: So one of the key agreements to come from that meeting between President Biden and President Xi was this pledge by China to curb fentanyl. We know they’ve made that pledge before. Fentanyl deaths in the U.S. have only increased every year since then, so why do you believe they will act on that pledge now when they haven’t before?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, Amna, what’s so important about the meeting yesterday is it advanced in very concrete ways really two things that we’re trying to drive at in this relationship with China. We’ve got an intense competition with China – we want to make sure it doesn’t veer into conflict – and at the same time, where we can find places to cooperate that really advance the interests of the American people, we’re going to do that.
When it comes to avoiding conflict, we’ve had a series of near misses with Chinese planes, Chinese boats coming dangerously close in very dangerous ways to our own. We hadn’t had military-to-military contact between our countries in well over a year. We re-established that both at the highest levels and also at the operational level. That’s an important way to avoid any mistakes, any miscalculations that could lead to conflict.
Second, when it comes to advancing the interests of the American people, what you just alluded to – fentanyl, the number one killer of Americans age 18 to 49 – not guns, not car accidents, not cancer – fentanyl. And what we know is that in recent years, the chemical precursors, the ingredients that go into making fentanyl, are manufactured in China and then sent to our own hemisphere, where it’s turned into fentanyl and comes into our country and devastates our communities.
So what China has agreed to –
QUESTION: And so what leads you to believe they will act now?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So two things. One is they have put out a public notice to all of their companies that engaging in this practice is forbidden; but beyond that, they’ve taken concrete action going against – we gave them a list of companies that we know to be engaged in this trafficking of chemical precursors, and they’ve actually taken action to disband these companies. That is very important, and it’s, I think, a good demonstration of their seriousness.
Beyond that, though, we’ve set up a group between our two countries to monitor this going forward to make sure that this continues. And as we and others get information about any companies involved, we expect, based on what they’ve said and based on what they’ve done, that China will take action.
And by the way, this is something that I think China understands is important that it be seen as playing a leading and productive role in dealing with the fentanyl crisis, because it’s not only affecting us; it’s affecting increasingly countries around the world. We’re the canary in the coalmine for fentanyl, but we have synthetic opioids in Asia, we have them in Europe, and China needs to be seen – and wants to be seen – as a responsible actor.
QUESTION: I’d like to ask you as well about Israel’s war in Gaza. As you know, Israel showed what they said was evidence that al-Shifa hospital was an is a Hamas command center. They released these produced videos that show guns and ammunition and a laptop that they said they found inside. Human Rights Watch has said the Israeli evidence so far is what they call insufficient to show that it was a command center to revoke Shifa’s protection, so there is a lot of skepticism around this raid. Why not share more evidence of what you have seen that convinces you this was a command center?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, two things. First, if someone can explain why there are assault rifles next to MRI machines, that would be good to know.
QUESTION: But is that your definition of a command center?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have information —
QUESTION: The presence of weapons?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, so – but second, with regard to command centers, we ourselves have information that that’s exactly what Hamas is doing. And this is an ongoing operation, and I fully expect that as the operation is completed, Israel will show more evidence of what Hamas was doing in these hospitals or under these hospitals, because that’s where the tunnels are.
What we know across the board is that Hamas embeds itself in civilian infrastructure – in and under apartment buildings, in and under hospitals, in and under schools – and it uses people as human shields. There’s been a horrific loss of life in Gaza. And we have to ask ourselves what we would have done in the same situation. Imagine if terrorists had come across our border on October 7th, slaughtered – proportionally – 40,000 Americans, and then retreated and were hiding themselves among civilians in all of the civilian infrastructure. What would we have done?
At the same time, Israel has an absolute obligation to do everything possible to avoid harming civilians. And as you know, they’ve opened up corridors so that people could get out of harm’s way. More than a million people have left Gaza City. They put in place some limited pauses to facilitate that. They brought in assistance to the hospitals themselves.
But they can, they must, do even more. And this is something that we’re on constantly. It’s —
QUESTION: To your point, to your point on the loss of life, the U.S. equivalent of – the Gazan loss of life would be over 1.5 million people. And as you have noted, watching that death toll rise, as you said, watching children pulled from the rubble – that guts you every time. Americans are increasingly feeling that way too. I just want to put to you our latest poll numbers from this week when people were asked about their response, Israel’s response to the Hamas attack: 38 percent the Israel – said the Israeli response have been, quote, “about right,” but 38 percent also said the Israeli response has been “too much.” And that number is up 12 percent from – or 12 points, rather, from just a month ago. So I wonder what you would say to Americans who are increasingly uncomfortable with Israel’s conduct in the war and U.S. support of it.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, I think so many of us feel the same way. This is incredibly gut-wrenching and it’s heartbreaking. But we also have to ask ourselves what would we do, and what would any country do when faced with this terrorist organization that had slaughtered its people and then said very clearly that it intended to do it again and again and again if given the ability to do that, the capacity and the ability to do that. And that’s the problem that Israel has to deal with; it’s a problem that any of us have to deal with.
The other thing is I don’t hear the (inaudible) cry for Hamas to respect international humanitarian law; for Hamas to maybe get out of the buildings, to get out of the hospitals, to get out of the schools so that civilians aren’t endangered; for Hamas to surrender. That would protect Palestinian civilians immediately. I’m not hearing anyone say that. The dilemma for any country in this situation is what to do to make sure that not only can you – are you defending your people, but you’re trying to make sure that this can’t happen again.
QUESTION: That is the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken joining us tonight. Mr. Secretary, thank you. Good to see you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to see you too. Thanks.