Antony Blinken’s 60 Minutes interview yesterday hit some of the right notes, particularly on Xinjiang and Hong Kong. But the secretary of state also made some perplexing comments about the goal of U.S. actions to respond to China’s misbehavior:
It is the one country in the world that has the military, economic, diplomatic capacity to undermine or challenge the rules-based order that we care so much about and are determined to defend. But I want to be very clear about something, and this is important: Our purpose is not to contain China, to hold it back, to keep it down. It is to uphold this rules-based order that China is posing a challenge to. Anyone who poses a challenge to that order, we’re going to stand up and defend it.
Blinken might have meant to argue that Washington’s goal isn’t to make life hard for ordinary people in China, as the Chinese Communist Party often charges. But, unlike what his comments actually seemed to suggest, the goal of the burgeoning bipartisan consensus against Beijing’s malign activities is and should be to prevent the CCP from doing further harm to the victims of its rule and from exerting its power over others. Punishing genocide requires that China be made an international pariah. Deterring a future assault on Taiwan calls for planning a unified allied military response. Failing to do everything possible to thwart Beijing’s dangerous ambitions and growing global influence would be a grave mistake.
There’s plenty of room for debate about whether this amounts to a formal doctrine of containment, but the purpose of U.S. policy should be to hold China back, if by China one means the totalitarian party-state that has a grip on every aspect of Chinese society and intends to co-opt to its own ends the very order that Blinken defends.