On May 23, Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered a speech on US policy toward China at George Washington University.1 The tone of the speech focused on policy disagreements between the two countries. His speech was divided into three pillars: invest, align, compete.
The first pillar of the strategy was “investing in our strength.” Secretary Blinken focused on “far reaching investments” into US supply chains and research, focusing on recently passed infrastructure legislation and pending legislation on domestic semiconductor production and technological research. He urged Congress to pass the pending legislation, which is currently in a Conference Committee to resolve differences between House and Senate-passed versions of the bill.
Secretary Blinken also focused on immigration in this section, highlighting that the US issued over 100,000 visas to Chinese students to study in the US in just four months last year. He noted that more than 80 percent of Chinese science and technology PhD students remain in the US after they complete their studies. He noted the US can use “our democratic system” to attract top talent, in contrast to China’s “party-led centralized system.”
The second pillar of the speech focused on “aligning with our allies and partners to advance a shared vision for the future.” Secretary Blinken stressed the Administration’s commitment to reengaging with allies and partners, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. He highlighted the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework; the recent Quad summit with Australia, Japan, and India; and the US-hosted ASEAN conference as examples of this reengagement.
Secretary Blinken also discussed trans-Atlantic cooperation, highlighting the new US-EU Trade and Technology Council and the recent resolution of aircraft litigation and steel and aluminum tariffs as examples of this.
The Secretary stated that these relationships “are all aimed at defending, and, as necessary, reforming the rules-based international order that should benefit all nations.” He also stated that the US and its allies and partners are aligned on human rights issues.
Secretary Blinken’s third pillar builds on the other two: with improved investment and alignment, the US is “well-positioned to outcompete China in key areas.” He listed several new policy proposals to improve American competitiveness with China, including enhanced export controls, protections for academic research, improved cyber defense and data security policies, and screening measures to detect Chinese efforts to “gain access to sensitive technologies, data, or critical infrastructure.” He stated these policies would “push back responsibly on unfair technology and economic practices,” like subsidies and market access barriers.
Despite his focus on competition, Secretary Blinken also discussed areas where the US and China could cooperate. These issues include climate change, combatting COVID-19, nuclear non-proliferation, drug trafficking, and food security. Nonetheless, Secretary Blinken’s speech indicates an overriding commitment to characterize US-China relations as one of competition, rather than cooperation, at least for the near future.
1 U.S. Department of State, Press Release, The Administration’s Approach to the People’s Republic of China (May 26, 2022) https://www.state.gov/the-administrations-approach-to-the-peoples-republic-of-china/.