Blinken warns China to not use 'coercion and aggression' to get its way during first trip to Asia

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a virtual meet and greet with U.S. Embassy staff at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Tokyo, Japan, March 16, 2021.
Kim Kyung-Hoon | Reuters

WASHINGTON – From Japanese soil, Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed China’s sweeping use of “coercion and aggression” on the international stage and warned that the U.S. will mount pushback if necessary.

“China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law,” Blinken said at a news conference.

“We’re united in the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, where countries follow the rules, cooperate whenever they can, and resolve their differences peacefully. And in particular, we will push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way,” he added.

Blinken’s comments come a handful of days before he and national security advisor Jake Sullivan hold high-level, in-person talks with Chinese representatives. Blinken and Sullivan will meet with the People’s Republic of China’s Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party’s top decision-making body, and Wang Yi, the foreign minister in Alaska.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday that Beijing hopes that a stronger U.S.-Japan relationship will not harm others in the region.

“We think the cooperation and communication between Japan and the U.S. should strengthen regional understanding and trust, should be beneficial to cooperation among countries in the region and beneficial to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and that it shouldn’t target any third party or harm the interests of any third party,” he said during a news conference, according to an English translation.

President Joe Biden, who spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping last month, has previously said that his approach to China would be different from his predecessor’s in that he would work more closely with allies in order to mount pushback against Beijing.

“We will confront China’s economic abuses,” Biden said in a speech at the State Department, describing Beijing as America’s “most serious competitor.”

“But we’re also ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so. We’ll compete from a position of strength by building back better at home and working with our allies and partners.”

In February, Biden announced a new Defense Department task force aimed at assessing the U.S. military’s China strategy.

“That’s how we’ll meet the China challenge and ensure the American people win the competition in the future,” Biden said in his first visit as commander in chief to the Pentagon.

The nation’s top diplomat alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday in an effort to shore up alliances and reaffirm commitments with key U.S. partners in the region. The pair will also travel to Seoul on Wednesday where they plan to discuss security cooperation and challenges largely posed by China and North Korea. Blinken and Austin’s joint trip is the first overseas travel for the two under Biden.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Japan’s Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi attend the 2+2 Meeting at Iikura Guest House in Tokyo, Japan, March 16, 2021.
Kim Kyung-Hoon | Reuters

Also on Tuesday, North Korea broke its silence for the first time since Biden became president and sent an aggressive message to the United States.

“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off [gun] powder smell in our land,” Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said referencing joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises in the region.

“If it [the U.S.] wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step,” she added, according to an English translation.

The Biden administration has tried unsuccessfully to restart nuke talks with North Korea.

Under third-generation North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the reclusive state has conducted its most powerful nuclear test, launched its first-ever intercontinental ballistic missile and threatened to send missiles into the waters near the U.S. territory of Guam.

Since 2011, Kim has launched more than 100 missiles and conducted four nuclear weapons tests, which is more than what his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, launched over a period of 27 years.

He has not conducted any missile tests since Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

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