- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 11, 2021

Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China on Sunday not to attack Taiwan amid increased tensions and activities across the Taiwan Strait.

“All I can tell you is it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force,” Mr. Blinken said when asked if the U.S. would defend the island from a mainland attack.

The comments come amid growing tensions with China over Taiwan and Beijing‘s efforts to take control of a disputed South China Sea reef claimed by U.S. ally the Philippines.

China recently sailed its first aircraft carrier around Taiwan, and a U.S. guided-missile destroyer responded by conducting a transit through the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.

The aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the Navy amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island, with some 2,000 Marines, currently is conducting war games in the South China Sea.

The secretary of state also warned Moscow against military action against Ukraine, as Russian troops massed near the border.

On Taiwan, Mr. Blinken said the U.S. views with concern increasing Chinese military posturing toward the island Beijing regards a breakaway province.

“What we’ve seen and what is a real concern to us is increasingly aggressive actions by the government in Beijing directed at Taiwan, raising tensions in the straits,” he said.

The United States maintains a legal commitment to Taiwan under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. The act stops short of guaranteeing a U.S. defense of the island but calls for helping the Taipei government maintain defensive capabilities through tens of billions of dollars in arms sales in recent years.

The Taiwan law is “a bipartisan commitment that’s existed for many, many years, to make sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself and to make sure that we’re sustaining peace and security in the Western Pacific,” Mr. Blinken said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We stand behind those commitments.”

Pressed on whether the U.S. commitment includes the use of military force, Mr. Blinken sidestepped the question.

“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals,” he said. “All I can tell you is we have a serious commitment to Taiwan being able to defend itself. We have a serious commitment to peace and security in the Western Pacific. And in that context, it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change that status quo by force.”

China in recent weeks has stepped up aircraft flights into the island’s air defense zone with as many as 10 warplanes at a time.

Chinese state media, meanwhile, has increased threatening rhetoric, prompting Mr. Blinken‘s defense of the island and criticism of Beijing.

The Chinese Communist Party-affiliated outlet Global Times published a video report of a radio communication between a People’s Liberation Army aircraft being tracked by a Taiwanese jet interceptor.

“This is all within China‘s airspace, you will get used to it very soon,” a PLA pilot is heard telling a Taiwanese counterpart.

Asked if China could misread the United States’ limited response to Russia’s 2014 takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula as weakness, Mr. Blinken said he disagreed that the U.S. response was insufficient.

“In the case of Crimea, in the case of the Donbas, the United States back then led a very significant international effort to impose real costs and sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Crimea, in the Donbas,” he said.

The comments on Ukraine come amid the Russian military massing forces, including short-range Iskander missiles, near the border with Ukraine.

“And as we speak right now, I have to tell you we have real concerns about Russia’s actions on the borders of Ukraine,” Mr. Blinken said. “There are more Russian forces massed on those borders than at any time since 2014 when Russia first invaded.”

The State Department is maintaining close contacts with all U.S. allies and partners in Europe and “all of us share that concern,” he said.

Mr. Blinken also issued a warning to Moscow.

“President Biden has been very clear about this,” he said. “If Russia acts recklessly or aggressively, there will be costs, there will be consequences.”

He did not elaborate.

On Beijing‘s mass repression of minority Uyghurs in western China, Mr. Blinken was asked how he can justify “doing business with China” that is engaged in what the State Department has said is genocide.

“When it comes to what we’re seeing from the government in Beijing, including with regard to the Uyghurs and the actions it’s taken in Xinjiang, yes, I think that’s exactly the right description,” Mr. Blinken said.

Beijing has denied engaging in genocide or repression and described its actions, including the internment of more than 1 million Uyghurs and other minorities, as “reeducation.”

“We need to take, actually, concrete actions to make sure, for example, that none of our companies are providing China with things that they can use to repress populations, including the Uyghur population,” said Mr. Blinken, adding that products made in China utilizing forced labor need to be banned.

The Biden administration policy remains to work with China in areas of mutual benefit while opposing human rights violations and Uyghur genocide, Mr. Blinken said.

Asked if the United States would lead a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Mr. Blinken said “we’re not there yet.”

“This is a year or so before the Olympics,” he said. “We’re not focused on a boycott. What we are focused on is talking, consulting closely with our allies and partners, listening to them, listening to concerns. But [a boycott] that’s premature.”

Mr. Blinken also discussed the joint World Health Organization-Chinese government report on the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked if China, which has been faulted for hiding details of the outbreak, knows how the disease outbreak began, Mr. Blinken said: “I think China knows that in the early stages of COVID, it didn’t do what it needed to do, which was to in real time give access to international experts, in real time to share information, in real time to provide real transparency.”

“And 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,” he said.

Mr. Blinken did not demand that China disclose what it knows about COVID but instead called for a better global health security system that could warn against future disease outbreaks.

“And that means making a real commitment to transparency, to information sharing, to access for experts,” he said.

On Afghanistan, Mr. Blinken said President Biden wants to end the war and bring U.S. troops home and is working to broker a settlement with the Afghan government and the Taliban, still a designated international terrorist organization.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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