‘Beijing acting more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad’: Antony Blinken
This story first appeared in The Times of India
On his first visit to India, US secretary of state Antony Blinken sat down for a conversation with Indrani Bagchi on the Quad, the future of Afghanistan and the US-India priorities going forward. Excerpts from the interview:
Where are we on the Quad? what have we accomplished with working groups?
Well, first, we had the first ever leaders level meeting of the quad. That was in and of itself, very significant, because it just underscored the importance that the four countries India, the United States, Japan, and Australia attach to the quad. And what we’ve achieved already is bringing together four like-minded democracies in common purpose to deal with some of the most important problems and challenges facing our countries and in fact, facing the region, and even the world, starting with Covid-19. And a commitment to work together to finance, produce and distribute millions of vaccines.
Has there been any progress on the vaccine front?
Yeah, I think we’re making we’re making progress, and when the leaders get together next they’ll be able to assess that. Of course, Covid-19 remains a huge challenge for for all of us. Since the first virtual leaders meeting, the second wave hit India. I’m proud that the United States was able to come to India assistance as India came to our assistance early during the pandemic, when we had real challenges.
We’ve seen reports of the US proposing a digital services agreement among countries. Could you tell us a little more about it?
We’re doing work in a wide variety of areas to include not just Covid-19, on the climate crisis, on infrastructure, on maritime security, as well as on emerging technologies. And that includes the digital space.
How do you see the China challenge? Indians have shed blood so we see it in a certain way. Can you describe the China challenge in the way you see it?
For the United States, in a way as for India, it’s both one of the most consequential and most complicated relationships that we have. I think we’ve seen unfortunately, the government in Beijing act more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad. In recent years, that posed a challenge for all of us. We see a relationship that is in parts adversarial, in parts competitive and also in parts cooperative.
I think what we found is that the best, most effective way to engage China is working with other countries that are similarly situated, and that face similar challenges. India, of course, is a strong partner for the United States in this respect.
Do you think the era of cooperation with China is over?
No. I think the relationship has different elements in it. Cooperation remains one of them, because on some issues, it’s profoundly in our mutual interest to to cooperate — climate may be the best example. That’s an issue that is important to all of us.
As you withdraw from Afghanistan, do you think it affects the US credibility as a as a partner? Second, for 20 years, women have had a good run in Afghanistan. Do you think we are sort of leaving them to the wolves?
It’s been 20 years, we have to remember why we went to Afghanistan in the first place. It was because we were attacked on 9/11. We went to do justice to those who attacked us and to try to make sure that it couldn’t happen again. And we’ve largely succeeded in that effort. Osama bin Laden was brought to justice 10 years ago, and Al Qaeda in terms of its capacity to do that again, from Afghanistan, that’s been vastly diminished.
It’s now 20 years, a trillion dollars later and more than 4500 American soldiers who have lost their lives. Afghanistan ultimately has to be able to shape its own future. But with our support. Even as we withdraw our forces, we are staying very much engaged in Afghanistan, with a strong embassy, with programs to support women and girls, economic development, humanitarian assistance, and the security forces. We’re remaining very much engaged also, with our diplomacy, because the only resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan is at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield.
Pakistan continues to support the Taliban. Are we seeing the same effect in Afghanistan today that we saw for the last 20 years?
Pakistan has a vital role to play in using its influence with the Taliban, to do whatever it can to make sure that the Taliban does not seek to take the country by force.
What are your priority areas with India? When do we expect a presidential visit?
I can’t put a date on it. But I know that President Biden will very much look forward to visiting India, and similarly to having Prime Minister Modi in the United States. But no date yet.
In terms of priorities, the relationship is both so wide and so deep. There are, as we discussed today, for several hours with foreign minister Jaishankar, a multiplicity of places where we’re working together.
But I would say, again, we’re focused on Covid. Together, we’re focused on climate, on the role of emerging technologies. But also on strengthening our trade and investment relationship, bringing our scientists and technologists and innovators together, strengthening people-to-people ties.
We look forward to welcoming nearly 70,000 Indian students to the United States for this next semester. So it’s incredibly broad. And what we’ve seen over the last 20-25 years, through different administrations in both countries, is a relationship that’s only gotten stronger and deeper, especially in last one year.
India will probably take delivery of S-400 from Russia later this year. How would that impact US-India relations?
Well, we have our laws, we will apply our laws, we shared our concerns with India, about this. But I’m not going to get ahead of myself. We’ll see how things evolve in the coming months.