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Politics

US-China relationship 'most important in the world': Blinken

On first day, new secretary of state tells staff 'the world is watching us'

Newly confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken removes his face mask to speak during a welcome ceremony at the State Department on Jan. 27.    © AP

NEW YORK -- In his first news conference as secretary of state, Antony Blinken said that the U.S. and China will clash in some fields and cooperate in others, but defined it as the most consequential relationship in the world. 

"It's not a secret that the relationship between the United States and China is arguably the most important relationship that we have in the world going forward," Blinken told reporters on Wednesday. "It's going to shape a lot of the future that -- that we all live, and increasingly that relationship has some adversarial aspects to it. It has competitive ones. And it also still has cooperative ones," he said.

In areas where the two countries can cooperate, such as in climate change,  "I think and hope that we'll be able to pursue that," he said.

"But that fits within the larger context of our foreign policy and of many issues of concern that we have with China," he added, signaling that the U.S. will not ease the pressure on Beijing in such fields as human rights.  

Earlier, Blinken addressed the State Department staff as he arrived at Foggy Bottom in the morning.

"It's a new day for America. It's a new day for the world," he said in the building's entrance hall.

Blinken returns to a place where he started his career in 1993, when he served as special assistant to the assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs.

His most recent stint at State came as deputy secretary from 2015 to 2017 under the Obama administration. Long a close aide and diplomatic adviser to President Joe Biden, Blinken now returns to State as the administration's top diplomat.

"I know the State Department that I'm walking into today is not the same one that I left four years ago," he said. "A lot has changed. The world has changed. The department has changed, and we need only look around to see that."

Blinken pointed to the nearly empty lobby, where the few attendees were all masked. Outside, the department and many other government buildings are protected by barricades put up after the Capitol riots of Jan. 6.

"The world is watching us intently right now," he said. "They want to know if we can heal our nation. They want to see whether we will lead with the power of our example, if we'll put a premium on diplomacy with our allies and partners to meet the great challenges of our time -- like the pandemic, climate change, the economic crisis, threats to democracies, fights for racial justice and the danger to our security and global stability posed by our rivals and adversaries."

The American people are watching us, too, he added. "They want to see that we're safeguarding their well-being, that we care about their interests, that our foreign policy is about them and their lives."

Echoing Biden's pledge to pursue a foreign policy for the middle class, Blinken said the administration will seek to deliver "a foreign policy that delivers real benefits to American families, protects their safety, advances their opportunities, honors their values and leaves their children and grandchildren a healthier and more peaceful world."

"As secretary, I will not let you down," he promised, vowing to create a diverse and inclusive State Department, seek out dissenting views and to listen to the experts.

"I will insist that you speak, and speak up, without fear or favor. And I will have your back," he promised.

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