QUESTION: In his first 100 days, President Biden focused on the coronavirus pandemic. But over the course of his term, the Biden presidency will be defined by how the United States competes with China. In a few years, China’s economy is expected to surpass the U.S. as the world’s biggest. To determine how the United States will deal with China’s growing influence, Mr. Biden has chosen one of his closest aides as Secretary of State. It falls to Antony Blinken to rebuild a depleted and demoralized State Department, repair U.S. alliances, and champion what diplomats call the rules-based international order – the written and unwritten code that governs how nations deal with one another, rules that he says are now threatened by China.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It is the one country in the world that has the military, economic, diplomatic capacity to undermine or challenge the rules-based order that we care so much about and are determined to defend. But I want to be very clear about something, and this is important: Our purpose is not to contain China, to hold it back, to keep it down. It is to uphold this rules-based order that China is posing a challenge to. Anyone who poses a challenge to that order, we’re going to stand up and defend it.
QUESTION: I know you say the goal is not to contain China, but have you ever seen China be so assertive or aggressive militarily?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, we haven’t. I think what we’ve witnessed over the last several years is China acting more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad. That is a fact.
QUESTION: What’s China’s goal?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think that over time China believes that it can be and should be and will be the dominant country in the world.
QUESTION: Chinese fighter jets are increasingly visible in the skies above the Western Pacific, where the U.S. Navy also has a presence. This past week, China’s President Xi unveiled three new warships to patrol the South China Sea. It already has the world’s largest navy and could use it to invade Taiwan, a democratic island and longstanding U.S. ally.
Do you think we’re heading toward some sort of military confrontation with China?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think it’s profoundly against the interests of both China and the United States to get to that point or even to head in that direction.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about human rights. Describe what you see is happening in Xinjiang that maybe the rest of the world doesn’t.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve made clear we see a genocide having taken place against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. More than a million people have been put into – choose your term – concentration camps, re-education camps, internment camps. When Beijing says, oh, there’s a terrorism threat, which we don’t see, it’s not coming from a million people.
QUESTION: Six weeks ago in Alaska, Secretary Blinken confronted Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, about genocide in Xinjiang and China’s military aggression:
SECRETARY BLINKEN: “…and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today.”
The exchange became an international incident caught on camera and not lost in translation.
DIRECTOR YANG: (Via interpreter) “…the United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength.”
If Xinjiang isn’t a red line with China, then what is?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, we don’t have the luxury of not dealing with China. There are real complexities to the relationship, whether it’s the adversarial piece, whether it’s the competitive piece, whether it’s the cooperative piece.
QUESTION: Even before the meeting in Alaska, President Xi had warned about the dawn of a new Cold War. During President Trump’s time in office, China found the U.S. less predictable than past administrations:
PRESIDENT TRUMP: “…and I just announced another 10 percent tariff…”
Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese products in response to what he called unfair trade practices and the theft of U.S. intellectual property. So far, the Biden administration has kept the tariffs in place.
PRESIDENT BIDEN: “I also told President Xi that we’ll maintain a strong military presence…”
China may be the only big issue of the day in Washington in which Democrats and Republicans find common cause.
The Chinese have stolen hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars of trade secrets and intellectual property from the United States. That sounds like the actions of an enemy.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It certainly sounds like the actions of someone who’s trying to compete unfairly and increasingly in adversarial ways. But we’re much more effective and stronger when we’re bringing likeminded and similarly aggrieved countries together to say to Beijing this can’t stand and it won’t stand.
QUESTION: So is that a message that President Biden has delivered to President Xi?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Certainly, in their first conversation they covered a lot of ground.
QUESTION: It was reportedly a two-hour phone call.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It was, yeah. I was there.
QUESTION: And so did President Biden tell President Xi to cut it out?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: President Biden made clear that in a number of areas we have real concerns about the actions that China has taken, and that includes in the economic area, and that includes the theft of intellectual property.
QUESTION: China’s gross domestic product is expected to surpass the United States as early as 2028.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, it’s a large country. It’s got a lot of people.
QUESTION: If China becomes the wealthiest country in the world, doesn’t that also make it the most powerful?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: A lot depends on how it uses that wealth. It has an aging population. It has significant environmental problems and so on. But here’s the way I think about it, Norah, writ large: If we’re talking about what really makes the wealth of a nation, fundamentally it’s its human resources and the ability of any one country to maximize their potential. That’s the challenge for us; it’s the challenge for China. I think we’re in a much better place to maximize that human potential than any country on Earth if we’re smart about it.
QUESTION: China thinks long term, strategically, decades in advance. Is America just caught up on the latest fires here and there, and we’re not thinking long term, strategically, and as a result, China will surpass us?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What I’ve found looking at our own history is that when we’ve confronted a significant challenge, significant competition, significant adversity, we’ve managed to come together and actually do the long-term thinking, the long-term investment. And that is really the moment we’re in now, and that’s the test that I think we’re facing. Are we actually going to rise to it? President Biden believes we are.
QUESTION: Antony Blinken occupies a suite of offices on the 7th floor of the State Department, but he first worked for Joe Biden at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee nearly 20 years ago and has barely left his side since. In the Obama White House, Secretary Blinken held concurrent roles as an assistant to the president and the national security advisor for Vice President Biden.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s been the most consequential professional relationship and also in many ways personal relationship that I’ve had.
QUESTION: How often do you speak?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s pretty close to daily.
QUESTION: You speak to him every day.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: In one way or another. We’re pretty good at meetings, so there are a few of those. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: When I thought about the relationship that you have had with President Biden over the years in the Senate and then when he was vice president, the only relationship that I could come up with, though I’m not a historian, was, of course, Secretary Baker and President George H.W. Bush.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’d be flattered by any comparison to Secretary Baker. I actually – I spoke to him on the phone a few months ago, and we talked about the importance of ideally as Secretary of State having a close relationship with the President. He was extraordinarily effective for all sorts of reasons, but that was, I think, a source of his effectiveness.
QUESTION: Secretary of State James Baker helped President George H.W. Bush end the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The current Secretary is in the midst of winding down America’s longest war in Afghanistan.
Are you prepared for a worst-case scenario in Afghanistan where the U.S.-backed government fails and the Taliban takes over?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have to be prepared for every scenario, and there are a range of them, and we’re looking at this in a very clear-eyed way. But, Norah, we’ve been engaged in Afghanistan for 20 years, and we sometimes forget why we went there in the first place. And that was to deal with the people who attacked us on 9/11, and we did.
Just because our troops are coming home doesn’t mean we’re leaving. We’re not. Our embassy is staying. The support that we’re giving to Afghanistan when it comes to economic support, development, humanitarian – that remains, and not only from us, from partners and allies.
QUESTION: Somewhat related, will the Biden administration close Guantanamo Bay?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We believe that it should be. That’s certainly a goal, but it’s something that we’ll bring some focus to in the months ahead.
QUESTION: In this past Wednesday’s address to Congress, President Biden spoke about his plans for immigration reform:
PRESIDENT BIDEN: “For more than 30 years, politicians have talked about immigration reform, and we’ve done nothing about it. It’s time to fix it.”
It’s a subject not usually central to the State Department’s mission, but we asked Secretary Blinken about it because of the refugee crisis on America’s southern border.
Border crossings for undocumented immigrants have skyrocketed. In March, more than 170,000 people were taken into custody. That’s the highest in 20 years. Are the policies of the Biden administration to blame?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No. What we’re seeing is indeed a surge of people to the border. We’ve seen that in the past. But we inherited a totally broken system – broken intentionally. And it takes time to fix it. And by the way, our message is very clear: Don’t come; the border is not open; you won’t get in.
But we have to understand what is motivating so many people to do this, and it is usually desperation.
QUESTION: But that’s not new. I want to talk about the policies of the Biden administration because President Biden did use his executive authority to curb deportations, to allow more asylum seekers to enter the United States. So are these new policies by the administration contributing to this surge?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’re focused when it comes to people coming in to making sure that children, unaccompanied minors, are treated humanely and according to the law.
QUESTION: Is it problematic to tell migrants, “Well, no, you can’t come here,” and then at the same time create a different situation on the ground that does allow them to come?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: But the point is that they’re not. And one of the challenges that we’ve had is that traffickers and others are trying to tell them that the border is open. It’s not.
QUESTION: But children are being allowed in and they’re being —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Children are the one exception because we will not – it is the – it is the right thing to do. We are not going to abide the notion that children are kept in a precarious, dangerous situation. That is unacceptable.
QUESTION: Blinken himself is a father of two young children and hails from a family that only a few generations ago were themselves refugees. His paternal great grandfather, Meir Blinken, emigrated to New York City from Ukraine, fleeing Russian oppression in 1904. This coming week, the Secretary of State will visit Ukraine to show support for the country currently in the throes of more recent Russian aggression.
President Putin has amassed a very large force at the border with Ukraine, more than 100,000 troops. What is Putin up to?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You’re right; there are more forces massed on the border with Ukraine than at any time since 2014, when Russia actually invaded. I can’t tell you that we know Mr. Putin’s intentions. There are any number of things that he could do or choose not to do. What we have seen in the last few days is apparently a decision to pull back some of those forces, and we’ve some of them, in fact, start to pull back.
QUESTION: That’s been verified that they are pulling back?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Starting now. We’re watching that very, very carefully.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken on China’s influence in Hong Kong at 60MinutesOvertime.com.
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QUESTION: This week on 60 Minutes we spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He told us China is the biggest foreign policy challenge facing America and threatens the rules-based international order.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: When we see any country that is challenging that order or trying to undermine it, we’re going to stand up in defense of it.
QUESTION: But you have to acknowledge U.S.-China relations are at a low point.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: They’re at a difficult point primarily, in my judgment, for two reasons. We’ve seen China act more repressively at home in recent years, and we’ve seen it act more aggressively abroad beyond its borders.
“There are a number of areas where we are fundamentally at odds, including China’s actions in Xinjiang, with regard to Hong Kong.”
They say hey, these are – this is our business. These are internal matters. Actually no, they’re not. China signed on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It made solemn commitments to human rights. It’s violating those commitments. They have a commitment in the UN Charter to uphold international peace and security. They are undermining the very commitments they made to the international order. That’s why we say what we say and do what we do.
QUESTION: In response to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, the Chinese Government passed a national security law that bans what it defines as acts of subversion. That law has been used to arrest pro-democracy activists. And this year, electoral changes were passed that critics say could give China even more political power in Hong Kong’s government.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The commitments that China made to preserving Hong Kong’s democracy are enshrined in a United Nations treaty. What China has done is effectively quash democracy in Hong Kong, and in so doing it’s violated the commitments that it made when Hong Kong was handed over by the British to China with commitments that were supposed to endure through 2047.
QUESTION: What is the administration going to do about Hong Kong?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Taking action against those directly responsible for quashing democracy in Hong Kong, including through sanctions, including make sure they can’t travel to the United States. I think one of the questions is going to be whether Hong Kong is able to sustain itself as an economic and financial center in – under those conditions. And it may well be that people end up voting with their feet even if they can’t vote at the ballot box. As this continues, companies, people aren’t necessarily going to want to be operating in that environment.
QUESTION: That there’ll be an economic blowback?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think there’ll be an economic blowback, and it’s going to find it more and more difficult to do that if it’s facing the opprobrium of a large part of the world.
QUESTION: Chinese authorities have been detaining Muslim ethnic groups, including Uyghurs, in camps across a region of China called Xinjiang. The Chinese Government says they are trying to stop extremism and that the camps are for vocational and Chinese language training. Blinken says it’s genocide.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We see a genocide having taken place against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. More than a million people have been put into – choose your term – concentration camps, re-education camps, internment camps. When Beijing says, oh, there’s a terrorism threat, which we don’t see, it’s not coming from a million people. We’ve seen forced sterilization and an effort to hold down birth rates among the Uyghurs; efforts to indoctrinate them, to deny their culture, to deny their heritage; and various repressive and violent actions directed against them because they’re Uyghurs.
In our judgment, these values are not simply American values. They are universal and they’re pretty basic. So when we see them being violated, it’s been our tendency to stand up and say something about it and to try to do something about it: taking action, including sanctions; making sure to the best of our ability that we’re not exporting products to China that could be used to repress people; making sure that we’re not importing products that are made with slave labor.
QUESTION: Then why not boycott the 2022 Olympics in Beijing?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’re not focused on the question of a boycott at this point. It’s just not something that we’re looking at. It’s a year away.
QUESTION: Is it possible?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Never say something’s impossible. It’s just not what we’re focused on right now.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken also told us he is working to rebuild relationships with allies across the globe, relationships that had frayed during the previous administration. His message: America’s back.
What’s been the response?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Incredibly positive. I think there’s a strong desire to have the United States engaged, to have us leading again, to have us working closely with our partners and allies. When America is on the sidelines, when we’re not even in the room, either someone else tries to step up and take our place, and probably not in a way that advances our interests or values, or maybe, just as bad, no one does and then you may have chaos. I have found tremendous receptivity to our engagement, to the fact that we’re leaning into working especially with our allies and partners.
QUESTION: As America’s diplomat, what do you feel like you have to rebuild?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: One of the things I’m spending a lot of time on is making sure we’re strengthening the morale, the trust, the effectiveness of the department by relying on career professionals, by putting them in positions of responsibility, by listening to them; also by making sure that we have a department that actually looks like the country it represents. But the piece abroad is actually engaging with all of our allies and partners, making it clear that we’re listening to them, and rebuilding those habits of cooperation that to some extent we’d gotten away from.