PALO ALTO, U.S. -- Antony Blinken, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for secretary of state, on Tuesday promised major changes after four years of Donald Trump's foreign policy but stressed one priority will remain the same: China.
"Let me just say that I also believe that President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China," Blinken said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I disagree very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one, and I think that's actually helpful to our foreign policy," he added.
Blinken's hearing came a day before Biden's inauguration and did not meet much resistance from either Republicans or Democrats. He is expected to be confirmed either this week or by next Monday.
Much of the four hours focused on how the Biden administration will approach China, a country Blinken and several senators described as "the greatest foreign policy challenge of this century."
Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state during President Barack Obama's second term, signaled the Biden administration will take a firmer hand than Obama's. "There are, as I see it, rising adversarial aspects to the [U.S.-China] relationship, certainly competitive ones, and still some cooperative ones when it is in our mutual interest," he said.
But Blinken has also argued in previous media interviews that Trump's poor performance in office actually helped China to advance some of its strategic goals, such as weakening U.S. alliances and dulling the attractiveness of American-style democracy around the world.
Instead of slapping tariffs and export bans to counter Chinese competition, Blinken told the Senate that the Biden administration intends to focus on building domestic strengths.
"When we are thinking about China and the competition with China ... it is in some cases less about the growth of the Chinese threat and more sometimes about our own self-inflicted weaknesses. If we can get our own act together, we can do a lot better," he said.
Blinken also said the Biden administration will re-engage with allies in the Asia-Pacific and other regions, to build a more united front.
"We are about 25% of world GDP and when we have got allies and partners with us depending on who it is, it is 50% or 60%," he said. "It is a much heavier weight for China to have to ignore."
The secretary of state nominee said the Biden administration will continue strengthening Indo-Pacific relations, including deeper cooperation with India, to counter China's growing influence.
Blinken also agreed with his predecessor, Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in determining that Beijing has committed "genocide and crimes against humanity" in its repression of the minority Uighur Muslim population. He said the new administration will look at available "tools" to see what actions the U.S. can take.
On another friction point in U.S.-China relations -- Taiwan -- Blinken said the new administration will maintain a "bipartisan commitment" to the self-ruled democratic island. "We need to make sure that they have the means to deter aggression, to defend themselves," he said, adding, "I'd like to see them, Taiwan, even more engaged in the world."
Biden's team will "take a hard look" at Hong Kong's autonomy as well, Blinken said, following Beijing's imposition of a national security law last year.
Besides China, the nominee fielded questions on North Korea, Russia, the Middle East and COVID-19 at the Tuesday hearing.
Blinken said the Biden administration will review Trump's entire approach and policy regarding North Korea and apply additional pressure to bring Pyongyang back to the nuclear negotiating table by working with allies, especially South Korea and Japan.