President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet nominees promised Tuesday that the United States would stay tough on China but vowed a new era of international cooperation after Donald Trump’s divisive “America First” approach. A day before Biden becomes the 46th president, Blinken, his choice for secretary of state, indicated that the new administration will revive agreements with Iran and Russia but described both countries as threats.
“Not one of the big challenges we face can be met by one country acting alone — even one as powerful as the US,” Blinken, a mild-mannered longtime aide to Biden, told his Senate confirmation hearing.
“We can revitalize our core alliances –- force multipliers of our influence around the world. Together, we are far better positioned to counter threats posed by Russia, Iran, and North Korea and to stand up for democracy and human rights.”
Blinken distanced himself from the outgoing president’s needling of allies and denunciations of multilateralism but said that Trump “was right in taking a tougher approach to China.”
“I disagree very much with the way he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one.”
Blinken backed the determination Tuesday by the outgoing secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, that China was committing genocide against Uighurs and other mostly Muslim people.
He promised to keep looking at ways to block the import of Chinese products that involve forced labor and preventing the export of technology that could “further their repression.”
Retired general Lloyd Austin, the nominee to be defense secretary, told his hearing that the rising Asian power “constitutes a significant and long-term security threat to the United States and to our allies and partners.”
“I believe that because of its ascent and the scope and scale of its military modernization, China is the top priority,” he said.
Blinken has previously spoken of finding limited areas for cooperation with China, such as climate change.
But the tough talk came as the Trump administration hailed its campaign against China as a signature achievement.
In a farewell address, Trump said that he “rallied the nations of the world to stand up to China like never before.”
Return to diplomacy
The stepson of a Holocaust survivor who found refuge in the US, Blinken, 58, is known for his even temper and passion for humanitarian causes.
He faced friendly questioning even from most Republicans, indicating he is likely to win quick confirmation in the Senate, where his Democratic Party will gain control Wednesday.
A deputy secretary of state in Barack Obama’s presidency, Blinken promised to return to diplomacy including on Iran, where Trump walked out of a nuclear accord and slapped on punishing sanctions.
Biden “believes that if Iran comes back into compliance, we would too,” Blinken said.
“But we would use that as a platform with our allies and partners, who would once again be on the same side with us, to seek a longer and stronger agreement,” he said.
European powers remain committed to the 2015 accord, under which Iran drastically scaled down its nuclear work — steps it reversed in protest over Trump’s sanctions.
An expanded agreement could address Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the region as well as its missiles, Blinken said.
“Having said that, I think we’re a long way from there,” Blinken said.
Blinken said that Biden would also move quickly to extend the New START treaty on nuclear reduction, the last remaining arms pact with Russia, which expires on February 5.
The Trump administration had unsuccessfully sought to expand New START to bring in China, which has a fast-growing military that remains significantly smaller than those of Russia and the United States.
Blinken did not say for how long Biden would seek an extension. Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed a one-year timeframe but negotiations collapsed as the Trump team insisted that Moscow not develop weapons in the interim.
Shift on Yemen
In another shift, Blinken said that he would immediately review Pompeo’s designation of Yemen’s Huthi rebels as a terrorist group.
“At least on its surface, it seems to achieve nothing particularly practical in advancing the efforts against the Huthis and to bring them back to the negotiating table while making it even more difficult than it already is to provide humanitarian assistance to people who desperately need it,” Blinken said.
Pompeo issued the designation that took effect Tuesday despite wide warnings from aid groups that they need to deal with the Iranian-aligned rebels, who effectively control much of Yemen.
Blinken said that Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Trump, bore much of the responsibility for what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.