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HomeGovernmentSecretary Antony J. Blinken With Andrew Sorkin of CNBC

Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Andrew Sorkin of CNBC

QUESTION:  I want to thank the Secretary for joining us today.  It’s great to see you –

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to see you, Andrew.

QUESTION:  — here in Davos.  This is your first interview since a lot of things have happened.  The Taiwan election results have come in, the UK joint attacks on the Houthis in the Red Sea and since the conclusion of this 10-day stop.  And now you’re here in Davos.  The president of Israel is on his way here; the premier of China is here; you now have President Zelenskyy of Ukraine here. 

So a lot going on, and we want to touch on all of these different component parts.  But you just got off a plane this morning here.  What is your ultimate goal in terms of coming to Davos and what are you trying to do?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, when you went through that litany of things, it shows you why, for better or worse, we’re in a growth industry these days.  But look, here in Davos, it’s an incredible convening point.  You’ve got, of course, leaders from the entire world coming here, including from many of the places you just mentioned.  You, of course, have an extraordinary showing from the private sector – critical partners in so much of what we’re trying to do around the world.  Have everyone in the same place at the same time – not only convenient, it also creates some really interesting – what’s the word? – synergies, just bringing people together in interesting ways.  Davos is a great place to do that.

QUESTION:  Let’s go down the list of maybe crises, or big – at least hot topics that are being discussed here, starting with U.S.-China relations as it relates to the Taiwan election.  New president in place.  You came out with some comments congratulating him on his victory.  What do you believe it means for U.S. and China right now?  Does it up the risk that something’s going to happen?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, look, it means a few things.  First and foremost, we congratulated the president-elect, but also the people of Taiwan on their robust democracy, and the great example that that sets not just for the region but for the entire world.  When it comes to Taiwan itself and when it comes to cross-strait relations, we are focused on one thing, and one thing intensely, with many other countries around the world: peace, stability, no change to the status quo, the peaceful resolution of any differences. 

And there’s a reason that that matters, and it matters to virtually everyone here in Davos.  You know this.  Fifty percent of the world’s commerce every single day goes through that strait.  The semiconductors made on Taiwan are powering the world in every conceivable way.  If that’s interrupted or disrupted in any way, it’s bad for everyone.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So but let me then ask you about what has turned into a war of words.  You congratulate him; this is the China foreign ministry spokesman saying that your comments, quote, “send a gravely wrong signal to the Taiwan independence separatist forces.  We strongly deplore and firmly oppose this, and have made serious representations to the U.S. side.”  What do you make of that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  As it happens, I met just a day before the election with a very senior Chinese leader in Washington.  This was one of the questions that we focused on.  And we’ve made very clear what we stand for when it comes to Taiwan and China.  First, we’ve had a “one China” policy for a long time.  That remains our policy; it won’t change, and we’ve reaffirmed that.  At the same time, as I said, we are standing resolutely for maintaining the status quo, for peace and stability. 

China has to make decisions about what it will do and what it won’t do.  But I think the approach that they’ve shown in recent years has actually been totally counterproductive to their interests.  By trying to exert pressure on Taiwan – economic pressure, military pressure, diplomatic pressure, isolation – it’s only reinforced many of the very people that they don’t want to reinforce.

QUESTION:  But do you think this message is getting confused?  Because right after you congratulated him, President Biden was asked about the election as well; he came out and he said, “We do not support independence.”  That goes to the “one China” policy.  So at the same time, we’re saying democracy is great, but actually independence is not.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, that’s been our – that’s been our policy for as long as I can remember, and it remains our policy.  And again, it’s a policy that ensures to the best of our ability that we have peace, that we have stability, that we don’t have a status quo that’s disrupted in ways that are going to have repercussions for everyone around the world.

QUESTION:  What do you think the risk is, though, that there ultimately is a takeover?  President Xi has said that he ultimately wants to bring Taiwan fully into China.  I spoke with the prior president – or maybe she’s still the current president, but – just last year at the DealBook conference.  And she said that she didn’t believe that the Chinese could pursue a takeover, given their economic challenges today.  Do you believe that’s accurate?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, I’m not going to speculate; I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.  I can just tell you what we’re focused on, which is maintaining peace and stability.  And we’ve been very clear with China about that; we’ve been very clear with Taiwan about that.  And that’s what we’re focused on.

At the same time, we have a big, vitally important relationship with China.  It’s probably both the most complex and arguably the most consequential of any relationship we have.  We’re also focused on that.

QUESTION:  Let me ask you a question, because we’ve been talking to a lot of CEOs here, including folks who make chips – Intel, Qualcomm, and so many others.  We’re – we have a big effort in the United States to try to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. – ultimately by 2030 to be chip-independent.  If and when that happens, does Taiwan become more or less strategically important to the United States?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, you’re exactly right that we have a major effort underway.  And one of the major achievements of this administration, of President Biden, has been this investment in ourselves – including, notably, with the CHIPS and Science Act, to make sure that we have that manufacturing capacity here. 

But, look, this is going to take some time.  Taiwan remains vitally important when it comes to chips.  And as I said, beyond chips, 50 percent of the world’s commerce goes through that strait every single day.  That’s not going to change.

QUESTION:  And so it will always be strategically —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It will always be important.

QUESTION:  Are you planning to meet with anyone from the Chinese delegation while you’re here in Davos?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I don’t think we’re crossing over.  But as I said, we had a very senior Chinese official in Washington just a couple of days ago.

QUESTION:  Are we supposed to read anything, though, into that?

QUESTION:  They have a big delegation here this year. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, no, no.  Quite literally, we had one of their most senior foreign policy people in Washington.  We had extensive meetings with him – I did; Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, did, and we’ll continue to do that.  Look, we’ve – since my trip to Beijing this past summer, we’ve re-engaged at every senior level, the most important between President Biden and President Xi.  That engagement continues.  It’s really important that we have this ongoing, high-level communication – first, to make sure that we avoid any miscalculations, miscommunication, because —

QUESTION:  Do you think there’s better communication?  Some people will say, “Oh, they’re in the same town together.  Why aren’t they meeting together?”

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, no.  Look at the track record over the last six months.  Look at the trip that I made, then many other members of the cabinet made, the Secretary of Treasury, Secretary of Commerce, John Kerry, but most important President Xi and President Biden.  And we – after that meeting in San Francisco, which produced real results good for the American people in a number of ways, we’re continuing that, and that effort will extend into this year.

QUESTION:  Let’s pivot to a number of other crises that are taking place around the world.  The Red Sea – let’s talk about the latest there, because since the U.S. and UK launched those joint strikes against the Houthis, Houthi targets in Yemen, there have now been a number of attacks since.  So how successful was that attack, and what does escalation at this point look like to you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first Andrew, the most important thing is this:  What are the stakes here?  We’ve not wanted to see escalation anywhere since October 7th.  I mean, we’re working every single day to prevent it, including in the Red Sea.  And when the Houthis started these attacks, we pressed very hard for them to stop, but without escalation of any kind.  The reason it’s so important there is this:  Here again, 15 percent of commercial traffic is going through that strait every single day, 30 percent of the world’s container ships.  We’re seeing international repercussions from these attacks.  Thousands of ships have had to reroute, go – move around the —and away from the Suez Canal.  It’s adding costs to everyone.  Insurance costs are going up; shipping times are going up.  That means that whatever’s being shipped is getting more expensive. 

This has been an attack on international commerce, international shipping, not an attack on Israel, not an attack on the United States.  That’s why more than 40 countries came together to condemn what the Houthis were doing.  It’s why other countries came together to say if this continues there are going to be consequences, not for purposes of escalating but for purposes of getting them to stop. 

QUESTION:  You were just in Israel.  The president of Israel is coming here.  You’ve spent time with Netanyahu as well.  When you talk about trying to eradicate Hamas, but at the same time there is a push, clearly, to help and have targeted strikes so that they avoid civilians, do you believe you can eradicate fully Hamas without civilian and innocent casualties?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  What we’re focused on is trying to make sure that October 7th never happens again.  That should be the bar; that should be the measure.  And Israel has made good progress in doing to Hamas what needs to be done so that it can’t do October 7th again.  That’s what Israel should be focused on.  That’s what we are focused on.

At the same time, we’ve said from day one that how Israel does that matters vitally.  And that is especially true when it comes to civilian causalities.  Far too many Palestinians – innocent Palestinians – have been killed.  And of course, for those who are living in Gaza, they’re in a very, very difficult, dire situation.  We’re trying to get much more humanitarian assistance in to them.

QUESTION:  So since your visit, Netanyahu said the following.  He said, “We are continuing the war to its conclusion – to total victory… No one will stop us.”  What do you make of that?  Was that a message to you and the United States?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I can’t speak for the prime minister.  I can just tell you that from day one we’ve strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself, strongly supported its right to try to ensure that October 7th never happens again, but at the same time we want to see this conflict come to an end as quickly as possible.  And until it does, we want to see everything possibly done to protect civilians and to get assistance to those who need it.  Too many people are suffering in this conflict, and we’re trying to do what we can to alleviate that suffering.

QUESTION:  There is clearly a divide around the country and around the world about how the Israelis are going about this and about the U.S.’s support for it, including inside the White House itself, with members of government literally walking off the job.  I want to read you something that Speaker Johnson tweeted out in the past 24 hours.  He says, “Any government worker who walks off the job to protest U.S. support for our ally Israel is ignoring their responsibility and abusing the trust of taxpayers.  They deserve to be fired.”  What do you think of that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’ve had – I can just speak for the State Department.  We’ve had a number of people in the department since October raise questions, raise concerns, raise criticisms of policies – policies that Israel is pursuing; polices that we’re pursuing.  And the kind of place that I want to have, the institution I want to have is a place where people feel comfortable doing that. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We have something called the dissent channel that allows anyone in the department to raise a concern.  We’ve had a number of those.  I read every single one of them.

QUESTION:  But walking off the job —  


QUESTION:  Fire-able? 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  From my perspective, I want to make sure that people feel that they can say what they believe, express themselves —  

QUESTION:  But then do they ultimately have to get behind the position of the State Department?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  They need – they ultimately have to be on the job and do their jobs, but the main thing is this: people feel the need to speak up and speak out.  That’s a cherished part of our democracy.  It’s a cherished part of – in my view, of patriotism.  But people also need to be on the job, do the job.  Look, we see this across many administrations.  If the policies an administration is pursuing that individuals object to in a way that they can’t continue to work, well, that’s their decision.  That’s their choice.  They have to make that decision.

QUESTION:  Let me ask you a question about a two-state solution in Israel.  You’ve been working hard on that and starting to think about what things might look like on the other side.  There’s a lot of folks who are getting on board with you.  Netanyahu is not yet there yet – as are a number of folks in Israel itself.  In terms of the trust that the Israeli people have to have about their own security, do you imagine a two-state solution that doesn’t require some period of time where there is – for lack of a better word – an “occupation” of the Palestinian area for a period of time to create that trust? 


QUESTION:  Or do you think that undermines, ultimately, the long-term trust of both sides?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, let me put it this way, Andrew.  First of all, there’s an incredibly powerful equation for Israel’s future, for its security, and it’s this – and it’s different than anything we’ve had in the past.  Unlike any time in the past, virtually all of its neighbors – its Arab neighbors, its Muslim neighbors – are prepared – indeed, want – to integrate Israel into the region.  And they’re prepared to give it the kind of security assurances and commitments and guarantees that they never would have given it in the past.  But they’re equally committed to a pathway to a Palestinian state, because they believe strongly – and we believe as well – that until that question is resolved, you’re never —   

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — really going to have peace and stability, and for that matter, Israel is never going to know true security.  So when you put together integration in the region, Israel’s normalization of relations with every country, security assurances and commitments, a Palestinian state, you’ve created an entirely new region.  And then Israel’s biggest challenge, biggest problem – for us as well – Iran – is isolated.  It answers that problem very powerfully as well. 

Now, Israel in this moment, of course, is focused on Gaza.  It’s focused on October 7th.  But when that ends, they have to make fundamental decisions about their future.  These are hard decisions, not easy to do, but there’s a new equation that – in a way that was never possible in the past is possible now. 

QUESTION:  Do you need a new leader of the Palestinian Authority to do it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  You need – you need governments, leaders that are prepared —  

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — to make hard decisions. 

QUESTION:  But is the Palestinian Authority ultimately the right ruling authority?  And is the person who is in charge of that Palestinian Authority right now the person who you think can actually bring this all together? 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, we’ve said that we would welcome – more than welcome – I think we need to see reform of the Palestinian Authority to make sure that it’s delivering for its people —

QUESTION:  That means a new leader?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — that it has the capacity to do that.  It means a whole variety of things.  The Palestinians have to decide that for themselves.  A number of other leaders in the region are talking —   

QUESTION:  Do you think the Palestinian people are prepared to do that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think the Palestinian leaders – but more important, the Palestinian people – what do they most want?  They most want effective governance that can deliver.  Now that requires two things.  It requires in and of itself effective governance.  It also requires Israel to be supportive of a Palestinian Authority so that it has a chance to deliver.  Those two things need to come together. 

QUESTION:  Right.  How far away do you think they are on that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Listen, right now in the middle of this conflict, it’s hard when you’ve really plunged into that to necessarily see that future.  But I think it could be on us relatively quickly, because this conflict will end, and when it does, decisions have to be made.  You’re in a place right now where, again, Arab countries, including countries like Saudi Arabia, are prepared to do things in their relationship with Israel they were never prepared to do before.  That opens up an entirely different future, a much more secure future, but you have to resolve the Palestinian question.  Arab countries are saying this – they’re saying: look, we’re not going to get into the business – for example – of rebuilding Gaza only to have it leveled again —  

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — in a year or five years and then be asked to rebuild it again.  We’ve got to also get to the fundamentals.  And in terms of Israel’s own security, the Arab piece of the equation ,and the Palestinian piece, that’s the way to true, lasting security. 

QUESTION:  Let’s pivot now to the issue of Ukraine.  You spent some time with President Zelenskyy right here in Davos just this morning.  What are you talking about?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Oh, skiing – no, we, of course, are focused on the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine.  And even as we speak, the Russians continue to launch missiles at Ukrainian infrastructure, at civilians, at apartment buildings.  So we talked about two things.  We’re focused on making sure that Ukraine has what it needs to get strongly through this next year, 2024.

QUESTION:  Does it – does it have enough? 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So we need to do two things.  We need to make sure that, with Congress —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — we get the supplemental funding that President Biden has asked for.  We’re working very hard on that.  I believe strongly that there is bipartisan support in both houses.  We just need to —

QUESTION:  What happens if it – what happens if it doesn’t?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, there’s no magic pot of money.  If we don’t get that money, it’s a real problem.  It’s a real problem for Ukraine.  I think it’s a problem for us and our leadership around the world.  But here’s the thing:  Of that money that we’re asking for, $50 billion gets spent right back in the United States on – that money to procure items for Ukraine’s defense, it’s made in America.  These are American jobs. 

Right now, we have our allies and partners around the world who are actually providing the majority of the support to Ukraine.  We have more burden sharing when it comes to Ukraine than in any other instance I can remember in the 30 years that I’ve been doing this.  So this is a common endeavor, and right now Russia continues to suffer a strategic failure in Ukraine.  We have a strong interest in making sure that persists.  And if we let Putin get away with this, if we drop our guard and everything we’re doing for Ukraine, then you open up Pandora’s box.  And he will not stop with Ukraine, and others, other would-be aggressors in other parts of the world, they’ll take the lesson. 

QUESTION:  What do you think he would do next? 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, I think he would go full-tilt on Ukraine and then NATO countries.  And of course, if he attacked a NATO country, we have an Article 5 obligations under NATO to work to assist them.  That would bring us in directly. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We want to prevent that and make sure that doesn’t happen.  One last thing on this, though.  It’s so important.  This is not a forever war, and it’s not a forever expense for us either.  Even as we’re helping Ukraine in the moment to defend itself, working with dozens of other countries, we’re working so that Ukraine can stand strongly on its own two feet militarily, economically, democratically.  Private sector investment – our former Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker is working, leading the administration effort to get private sector investment in Ukraine.  Just came back from Ukraine with a delegation of CEOs.  There’s clearly tremendous opportunity there. 

We’re helping, with 30 other countries, to set them up with a force for the future so that they can deter aggression going forward.  And the reforms that they’re pursuing, that they have to pursue in order to get into the European Union and to attract private sector investment, you put those three things together, you can see a Ukraine that not only survives, but that thrives.  That’s the best answer to Putin, and it’s also the best answer for us because it means they’ll be able they’ll be able – they’ll be off on their own two feet.

QUESTION:  We’ve talked about a number of issues around the world that you’re dealing with now.  I’m curious if you look at them and think of them as all idiosyncratic unto themselves, or you think that the United States, our role and influence – and perhaps diminished influence –has impacted and helped create these moments.  You’ve heard a lot of critique about that.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, here’s what I’ve taken away from about 30 years of doing this.  One, when America is not engaged, when we’re not leading, then one of two things.  Either someone else is – and maybe not in a way that advances our interests and values – or maybe just as bad, no one is, and you get a vacuum that’s filled usually by bad things before it’s filled by good things.  What I’m hearing around the world everywhere I go is a thirst, a hunger, a desire for our engagement, for our leadership.  (Inaudible) —

QUESTION:  But they also talk about the polarization in Washington and the dysfunction in Washington.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we’ve done two things.  Yes, we have those challenges, and happily in this job, I don’t do politics back home.  But we’ve done two things that have been very powerful and that put us in a position of strength that we were not in in recent years.  One, as I said, we’ve made investments in ourselves, and people know that.  The CHIPS and Science Act, the Infrastructure Act, the IRA.  All of these things are resonating around the world because people see that we’re serious about our future. 

Second, the first thing that I was asked to do by President Biden was to roll up my sleeves and have everyone in the State Department party do the same thing: re-engage our alliances and partnerships, rejuvenate them, reimagine them in some cases.  And it’s those relationships, those partnerships that are so vital, because just as our leadership is essential, finding new ways to cooperate with others is more important than it’s ever been.  We’re doing that.  We have more convergence now, Andrew, with Europe, with Asia on how to deal with a Putin or how to deal with the challenges posed by China. 

QUESTION:  One of the things that’s weighing over this entire meeting and a lot of conversations has been what’s going on in the United States in Iowa, and this being an election year.  What do you think happens if former President Trump becomes the president when it comes to all of these issues that you’re talking about internationally? 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, as I said, I don’t do politics.  I do do policies.  So what I’m focused on is trying to pursue the best possible foreign policy to advance the interests of the American people.  That’s what President Biden asked me to do – and the entire team – and that’s exactly what we’re doing.  We were talking about China earlier. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, one of the agreements that came out of the meeting between President Bidne and President Xi – that we worked on for months and that the President brought over the finish line – was an agreement from China to work productively with us on dealing with the number-one killer of Americans aged 18 to 49: fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.  We now have China cracking down on the companies that are making the chemical precursors that get shipped from halfway around the world, turned into fentanyl.  That’s something that’s making a real and practical difference in the lives of Americans. 

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, I want to thank you for joining us from Davos, Switzerland. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to be with you. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much. 


QUESTION:  Thanks, guys.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-andrew-sorkin-of-cnbc/

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