QUESTION: Thank you for making time after an extremely long and intense past two days of talks. Your message has consistently been that you are here to open up lines of communication to avoid a military clash, but you just said China did not agree to open that military-to-military line of talks. Did Xi Jinping just say no?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s a work in progress. This is something that we need to do in the interests of both of our countries – that is, not only to establish and re-establish and strengthen lines of communication across our government, which we have done starting with this trip and, I believe, visits to follow by a number of my colleagues and then Chinese officials coming to the United States – hugely important if we’re going to responsibly manage the relationship, if we’re going to communicate clearly and try to avoid the competition that we have veering into conflict. But an aspect of that that really is important is military to military. We don’t have an agreement on that yet. It’s something we’re going to keep working.
I made very clear to our Chinese counterparts the importance that we attach to that, something that is also profoundly in their interests because, again, we both agree that we want to at the very least make sure that we don’t inadvertently —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — have a conflict because of miscommunication, because of misunderstanding.
QUESTION: So Xi Jinping didn’t say absolutely not? It was just —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, this is a work —
QUESTION: — not a commitment?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: This is a work in progress. We’re working on it.
QUESTION: Will the defense chiefs at least talk to each other?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, again, to be seen. We’ve made clear that we think that’s important – more than important, imperative. I think the Chinese understand very well, because I made very clear, where we’re coming from on this and we’ll keeping working on it.
QUESTION: During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union had that hotline. Is that the kind of thing you’re imagining? How would this kind of communication work?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s less a hotline and more regular engagement – regular communication so that they understand what we’re doing and not doing. We understand what they’re doing and not doing. We have greater clarity on each other’s intent in different places, and in particular when we have incidents – like the incidents that we just had a couple weeks ago with them driving their boats much too close to ours or their planes flying in very dangerous ways near ours – that we have a channel established that we can go to to deal with the problem.
QUESTION: But that architecture just doesn’t exist right now with China.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we of course have many ways to communicate with the Chinese Government. It’s exactly what we’re doing. And we’re seeing that now pick up in part as a result of this trip. It’s fundamentally in our interests to do that. But one aspect that remains is the military to military —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — and we’ll keep pressing it.
QUESTION: Do you assess that China is not committing because they benefit somehow from ambiguity because it complicates the U.S. presence in the Pacific?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I don’t want to speak for them or attribute anything to them.
QUESTION: But you have a theory?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we have some – we know that they have some concerns, including some of our sanctions, for example. That’s a problem for them.
QUESTION: On the defense chief?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: For example – which does not prevent at all contact or communication between the defense chief and Secretary Austin. So, again, this is something that we’ve engaged on these past couple of days. China knows exactly where we’re coming from, the importance that we attach to it, why we think it’s beneficial to both of us. And as I said, we’ll keep working on it.
QUESTION: Have you offered to lift the sanctions off of their defense secretary – their defense chief?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s not necessary because, again, we’re – they’re perfectly able, we’re perfectly able to have these contacts with their defense chief.
QUESTION: So that sounds like a no.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No.
QUESTION: There wasn’t – there wasn’t an offer. The other thing that you really emphasized was the need to talk about fentanyl, which is killing Americans.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mm-hmm. That’s right.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the Chinese state can really turn that up and turn that down?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes. Yes. We need to see much greater cooperation when it comes to fentanyl. We’ve seen some of that in the past. In fact, a few years ago, China actually scheduled fentanyl, made it – put it on a prohibited list. And one result of that was that actually, manufactured fentanyl that had been coming to the United States from China, that pretty much went to zero. What’s happened since, though, is that the chemicals that can be used to make fentanyl, the so-called precursors, those have been moving liberally to – primarily to Mexico where it gets turned into fentanyl and then winds up in the United States. So part of the challenge is making sure that chemical manufacturers that are producing these precursors in China and then, in some cases, inadvertently sending it to the wrong people in Mexico or other places – sometimes intentionally, deliberately – that’s what’s got to stop.
I made very clear to China that this is an area where we want and need to see real cooperation. As you said, this is a crisis for us. The number one killer of Americans aged 18 to 49: fentanyl. So the best way to deal effectively with this problem across the board – we’re working, of course, on dealing with demand in the United States. We’re dealing with law enforcement with Mexico. We’re dealing with putting technology on our borders to detect fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, but we also want to go to the source, and that is these precursor chemicals.
I believe this is an area where the United States and China can and must work together. It’s not about – it’s not about pointing fingers. It’s simply finding a way to cooperate and to do it in a way that, for example, their companies get information sharing so that they really know who they’re dealing with on the other end; that we have better labeling; that we have these know your customer protocols so, again, they know that they’re not sending this stuff to people who are going to use it to turn it into fentanyl. And in the case of companies that are doing this intentionally, deliberately, then of course, if we have information, we want China to act on it.
QUESTION: I’ve had lawmakers in the U.S. say that this is done intentionally by the Chinese state. Do you believe that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So, all I can tell you is this: We’ve seen cooperation from them in the past and that’s made a difference. That halted more or less over the last few years. They have issues that they’ve raised that – to try to explain why they’re not doing as much as they can.
QUESTION: They’ve complained about sanctions again.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: They’ve complained about sanctions. They’ve complained about the fact that they scheduled fentanyl and we haven’t. And in fact, one of the things that we should do, regardless, is to schedule fentanyl. But that doesn’t take the responsibility from them in working with us and cooperating. And as I put it to them, this is an area where we can and should work together.
And here’s the other thing, Margaret. What’s happened in part is that our market in the United States, horrifically, has become saturated. Last year we seized – we seized – enough fentanyl to kill every single American. So the cartels, the criminal enterprises that are engaged in this, are trying to make markets in other places. We’ve seen fentanyl use go up dramatically in Canada to the north, in Mexico itself, but also in other parts of Central and Latin America, and also in Europe we’re starting to see it, and in Asia. That means that the demand on China from other countries, not just from us, to take effective action, I think, is only going to grow.
QUESTION: Or they’re also seeing a financial benefit?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, again, that may be the case, but that’s why we are sanctioning companies, individuals when we can find them. We are taking law enforcement action, and we’ve made very – we’ve been very clear with China that we’ll continue to take those actions to protect our people.
QUESTION: For months now, the Biden administration has been talking about this restriction on outbound investment for American companies into China, particularly regarding sensitive national security issues. Are you going to make any changes to that, based on what you heard during these last two days.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, we’ve been on a course when it comes to outward – outbound investment. I’m not going to get ahead of the news, but it’s something that we’re very actively working on. What I did do during this trip was to try to explain very clearly what we’re doing and what we’re not doing. What we’re not doing is trying to hold China back economically, to contain them. What we’re not doing is decoupling the economic relationship. That would be profoundly against our own interests. Secretary Yellen, the Treasury Secretary, testified to this just a couple of weeks ago. She said it would be disastrous to decouple our economies, economically. We benefit tremendously from trade and investment when it’s fair, when it’s on the level. One of the things that was very important for me to do on this trip was to advance concerns that our companies and workers have in China.
But when it comes to particularly sensitive technology that China is using to advance its own very opaque nuclear weapons program, to build hypersonic missiles, to create technology that can be used for repressive purposes, it’s not in our interest to provide that to them or to sell that to them. And similarly, when it comes to investments in enterprises, companies that may be engaged in some of this or may – or that may facilitate it, it’s not in our interest to do that.
So what I told our counterparts here is this is, for us, as we’ve said, about building a very high fence around a very small piece of land. And that small piece of land has very sensitive technology that could be used against us. We’re not going to let that happen.
QUESTION: Did you raise the listening post in Cuba that was recently disclosed, and you’ve talked about?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I did. I did. I’m not going to characterize their response, but I told them that this is a serious concern for us, and we —
QUESTION: How widespread is this in Latin America?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So we’ve been taking – we’ve been taking steps over the past couple of years, diplomatically. Wherever we’ve seen China trying to create that kind of presence, we’ve been in there pushing back against it, and we’ve had some success in doing that. This is nothing new, but it is something of real concern. I was very clear about our concerns with China. But regardless of that, we’ve been going around to various places where we see this kind of activity, trying to put a stop to it.
QUESTION: Did you get any commitment from Beijing to help push back against Kim Jong-un and his missile testing and his nuclear program?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No commitment, but I think China understands that the most destabilizing actor in the area is Kim Jong-un with his repeated missile tests and possibly even a seventh nuclear test.
And here’s what I told our Chinese counterparts: We want their cooperation in trying to move Kim Jong-un away from all this testing of missiles, and to a negotiating table to deal with the nuclear program, to deal with the missile program. But if they can’t or won’t use their influence with North Korea to do that, for whatever reason, then we have to continue to take steps along with Korea, along with Japan, to protect ourselves, to protect our allies. And these are steps that are not directed at China, including more defense assets right in the region – exercises, work together – not directed at China, but that China probably won’t like.
So, our expectation is that China will find ways to use the influence it has with North Korea. Again, in the past we’ve had some success at doing that. But they need to recognize that if they don’t or won’t, for whatever reason, then we have to take steps to defend ourselves.
QUESTION: Did you raise that specifically with Xi Jinping?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, I did. Oh, yes, right. Well, raised that in detail with my two other interlocutors, the state councilor and the director for foreign policy, and more generically with Xi Jinping. We had – we spent, I think, something like eight hours in conversation with the state councilor/foreign minister, about three and a half hours of conversation with Director Wang Yi, and had about maybe an hour or so with Xi Jinping.
The conversation with President Xi was higher-level, more at 60,000 feet. We weren’t getting into some of these specific issues. But it was very important to have that conversation with him to share what we believed we needed to do in terms of the relationship, how we need to deal with our differences, how we need to see if we can find ways to cooperate more – and that starts with this engagement, the high-level communications – getting back to the agenda that, actually, President Xi and President Biden set when they met in Bali at the end of last year.
QUESTION: You are the first Secretary of State to visit this country in five years.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: But given where the relationship is right now, can you imagine President Biden coming to China? Will that happen?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Never say never, but let – we’ve got to start with where we’re starting from, which is getting back to sustained, high-level engagement across the government. And I think, again, you’re going to see that in the weeks ahead. I also invited my Chinese counterpart to come to the United States and he agreed, so we’ll find a time to do that. And of course, President Biden and President Xi have met many times before.
QUESTION: Will they meet this fall?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And there’s the possibility of meeting this fall, including at the APEC meetings that we’re hosting in San Francisco at the end of the year.
QUESTION: And what is it that you need to take home to Washington to make decisions about? Like, what made this trip worth it?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, look, I think we were in a place where the relationship was increasingly unstable. I think we’ve injected some greater stability into it. We now have a trajectory on engagements across our respective governments. That’s good, because diplomacy, talking, engaging, is actually the best way to advance virtually all of the interests that we have that are in play in China, both in terms of dealing our very profound differences and also, as I said, seeing if we could find areas to cooperate, like on fentanyl.
We have some American citizens who are being detained here, who are prevented from leaving. Well, if we’re not engaged directly, we’re probably not going to resolve that problem. That’s something I also spent some time on.
So, this is a process. It’s not one trip. It’s not one meeting. There are – the relationship is so complicated and so consequential that it takes a lot of work. And these are hard issues, hard problems, but you have to start somewhere. And I think we’ve made a better start, or restart, as a result of these couple of days, with a lot more to follow.
QUESTION: Did you get any commitment on those three wrongfully detained Americans?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have a commitment to continue to work hard on resolving these cases. And for me, that’s right up there with —
QUESTION: From the Chinese Government?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: From – yes. For me, that is job number one when it comes to looking out for the security and safety of Americans abroad, and notably those who are being arbitrarily detained.
QUESTION: Mark Swidan’s health in particular is a worry. His mother has spoken to CBS and other news organizations.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes, I’m deeply concerned about that, and that’s exactly why I not only raised but talked at some length about the individual cases of the detained Americans.
QUESTION: Is – are we in a place, though, as two governments where you’re negotiating or even talking about a prisoner release? Or is this just —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes, we are.
QUESTION: You are?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We are.
QUESTION: And there’s progress?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, I don’t want to get into the details, but we are very actively talking about that.
QUESTION: Well, that would certainly be a breakthrough in the relationship, to bring those Americans home.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It would. Regardless of anything else, it would be a very important and positive development, and we’re working it intensely.
QUESTION: Can I ask you just to button up on the – where we started this? Do you have any assessment as to why China wouldn’t want more communication with the United States? How do they benefit?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, I think – and again, I can’t speak for them; I don’t want to put words or ideas in their mouths or heads. But I think, clearly, the fact that we’re here, that we had two very lengthy but also, I think, very candid, very detailed, and in a number of places constructive conversations and talks, I think that’s evidence that they do want that – just as we think it’s important. There is agreement on the proposition that each of us has an obligation to responsibly manage this relationship.
We agree on that, because I think we each see it as in our own interest. There’s another reason we agree on that. There’s a demand signal from countries around the world that we do that. And I hear that wherever I go; I know that China hears that. So I think they’re being responsive to that.
QUESTION: But that also lessens the pressure on China, when they at least make motions to show that they are making a good-faith effort towards diplomacy. That’s what your critics would say, right?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sure.
QUESTION: That America’s getting played.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Listen, the only way we’re going to be able to see and test whether we can actually make progress on the many areas of concern that we have with China as well as the – what opportunities there are to cooperate is by engaging, is by talking. It would be irresponsible not to do that. It would be irresponsible in terms of those suffering from the horrific affliction of fentanyl, irresponsible in terms of the detained Americans; irresponsible in terms of our workers and businesses who are engaged here but in many ways are being treated badly or unfairly.
So, not engaging is not going to get you any results. It’s necessary. It’s not always sufficient, but it’s necessary in order to actually advance and make progress. And for their own reasons, I think Beijing understands that as well. That’s why we’ve had these meetings these past two days. It’s also why I expect you’ll see more to come.
But the bottom line is this, Margaret: My job – our jobs are to defend and advance the interests of our country and our fellow Americans. And we believe that one way to do that – a hugely important way to do that – is through engagement, is through diplomacy, is through talking.
Last thing. We come at this from a position of strength. Two and a half years ago, we – the President made two major decisions. One was to reinvest in America. And as a result of these historic investments – infrastructure, technology, the CHIPS Act, research and development, the Inflation Reduction Act – we are much stronger at home and much more competitive.
Second, we reinvested in our alliances, our partnerships. We re-energized them. We re-engaged them. And one product of that is we have much greater alignment with key partners and allies in Europe and in Asia about how to approach China. So, our strength at home, our standing in the world – much improved. And that’s very good when it comes to dealing with the challenges posed by China.
QUESTION: Did Vladimir Putin come up?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, yes.
QUESTION: The “partnership without limits.” Are there any limits on that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What came up was, of course, the Russian aggression against Ukraine and our hope that if there’s an opportunity, China can be helpful, productive, positive in helping to bring the aggression to end. And we’ve actually said that we’ve welcomed some of the things that they’ve done, including the fact that President Xi spoke to President Zelenskyy, statements that China has made about the use of nuclear weapons – very important – as well as some of the ideas that were in the peace proposal that they put out. Not everything’s good, but there are important elements, including what they say is critical, which is upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of countries.
So there may be a point where China can play a positive, constructive role in this. It’s something we talked about.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for your time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you.
QUESTION: I appreciate it.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.