Tampa Bay Times

Blinken warns China on Taiwan, Russia on Ukraine troop buildup

- BY TOM SCHOENBERG AND TONY CZUCZKA

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China against encroachin­g on Taiwan, and blamed secrecy by the government in Beijing for helping to hasten the spread of COVID-19. In an interview with NBC News, Blinken voiced concern about tension fomented by Chinese “aggressive actions” in the Taiwan Strait and said the U.S. stands by its commitment­s to ensure the island’s self-defense.

“It would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force,” Blinken said on Meet the Press on Sunday, adding that he wouldn’t speculate about possible U.S. responses.

Blinken also said he’s in contact with European allies about Russian troops deployed at Ukraine’s border, which he said were at the highest level since Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014. President Joe Biden has made it clear that “if Russia acts recklessly, or aggressive­ly, there will be costs, there will be consequenc­es,” Blinken said.

Blinken will return to Brussels this week for more meetings with NATO and European officials, people familiar with the matter have said, as the U.S. grows increasing­ly concerned about the troop movements. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be in Brussels at the same time for talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenber­g.

Ukraine is just one of a series of global challenges confrontin­g Biden and his administra­tion. China’s latest threats against Taiwan have generated widespread concern. The U.S. also faces a May 1 deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanista­n under a deal the Trump administra­tion made with the Taliban, though Biden has made clear he won’t meet that time frame.

On NBC, Blinken said only that Biden is committed to ending war in Afghanista­n and bringing U.S. troops home.

Blinken went to Brussels in late March on his first trip to Europe after his Senate confirmati­on, seeking to assure allies that former President Donald Trump’s “America First” era was over and the U.S. was fully committed to NATO. Trump often criticized the alliance and complained that European countries were not paying enough for their defense.

Russia this month announced the beginning of military drills, heightenin­g concerns about the risk of new clashes along the border with Ukraine that could lead to a broader conflict. Some 13,000 people have died in seven years of combat.

China criticism

Blinken stood by the White House’s descriptio­n of China’s treatment of its Uighur minority as genocide, saying the U.S. needs to look at keeping out Chinese products made in the region. By contrast, it’s too early to discuss a boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in China, he said.

“We’re not focused on a boycott,” he said. “What we are focused on is talking, consulting closely with our allies and partners, listening to them, listening to concerns. But that’s premature.”

Blinken also renewed the administra­tion’s criticism that China failed “to provide real transparen­cy” in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak last year.

One result of that failure is that the virus “got out of hand faster and with, I think, much more egregious results than it might otherwise,” Blinken said.

With probes into the origin of the virus still contentiou­s, Blinken said a full understand­ing of what happened is needed to avoid a repeat.

“That’s why we need to get to the bottom of this,” he said.

 ??  ?? Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken

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