QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for your time today.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you.
QUESTION: Great to see you here in Philadelphia.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: In Philadelphia.
QUESTION: And a good time to be a sports fan in Philadelphia, too.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, as it pains me to say that as a native New Yorker, but I have to. I have to tip my hat. It’s pretty remarkable to see all of these teams doing so well.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, your guys are still in it, so —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Still in it.
QUESTION: That’s right. For now.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And we’ll see. Maybe we’ll meet up.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) I hope so.
A few major topics to cover with you in not a lot of time, so let’s get right to it if we can, and start with the fact that we’re just a few weeks away from a major, consequential midterm election in this country, much of which will be decided on people’s perceptions of the economy. For better or worse, right or wrong, one of the factors that they use to make that judgment is gas prices, on which President Biden is making news this week.
But as we know, earlier this month Saudi Arabia, OPEC+ said that they will be cutting oil production, which will inevitably raise gas prices and could also pad the coffers of Russia. You’ve said that move must have consequences. Mr. Secretary, what do those consequences look like and what would it mean for Americans?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, here’s why this is so concerning to me – and I do the foreign policy; happily, I don’t do politics – but from the perspective of our interests around the world, the problem with the OPEC decision to cut production means that if prices go up, what does that do? It lines the pockets of Vladimir Putin at a time when he is engaged in this terrible aggression against Ukraine and its people, because Russia sells oil. That’s the one thing they’re still able to do, and if prices go up, he benefits. Second, countries around the world, including the United States, are working hard to rebound from COVID and from the economic challenges that that posed – exactly the wrong time to be taking this step.
So that’s why we told the Saudis, we told OPEC that it was the wrong thing to do, it was misguided, and, unfortunately, they did it anyway. So the President said very clearly that there will be consequences. We’re looking at those. One of the things that he wants to do is to make sure he’s talking to members of Congress from both parties when they come back from the midterm elections to look at this.
But the bottom line is this: We have a relationship with Saudi Arabia that goes back many years. We’ve got a multiplicity of interests in that relationship, working together against extremism and terrorism; trying to bring a terrible war in Yemen to an end, that’s maybe the worst humanitarian situation in the world, and Saudi Arabia plays a critical role in that; trying to build stronger ties among the Arab countries and Israel. All of these things and human rights as well are part of the equation, but we’ll talk to members of Congress, and the President said there will be consequences for a decision that was both deeply disappointing and misguided.
The final thing is this, though: We’re also working overtime to make sure that there’s enough energy on world markets to meet demand and as a result keep prices low. One of the things the President’s done is to release oil from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That puts more oil on the market; that help keeps prices down. Second, there is actually record production from the United States. We’re producing more and selling more around the world than we ever have. That’s important too, even as we make the transition over time to renewable energy.
QUESTION: You referenced the complicated relationship we have with Saudi Arabia. That could be said about many countries around the world, far – few more significantly than China.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: This week you made some news on that, saying you believe that China was moving faster than anticipated in its goal to annex or take over Taiwan, which of course is a democratically controlled, self-governed state. Want to push you on this a little bit. President Biden has said that the United States military would get involved if China moved to seize or annex Taiwan using its military and using our military potentially as well. First, what’s your real sense of China’s timeline here? And what’s the realistic possibility that we get involved in this conflict beyond what we’ve done in Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So here’s what’s going on, just to put this quickly in perspective. For many, many years since we re-established relations with China, we’ve managed this question of Taiwan and China’s desire for reunification with Taiwan in a smart and sensible way from Democratic, Republican administrations; different administrations in China. And the basic premise was that neither side gets to change what’s happening by itself unilaterally, by using force; that the differences that they have need to be resolved peacefully.
And what happened a few years ago is that China made a decision in its own policy that that status quo was not something it wanted to live with indefinitely. And we’ve seen it use more coercive means, more putting pressure on Taiwan to try to get to reunification. And we have a concern that beyond using coercive means, they might actually at some point use force. There’s no timeline on it, but to us – but not just to us, for countries around the world – it’s imperative that the differences that exist between Taiwan and between Beijing are resolved peacefully.
Here’s why. If there’s a crisis that interrupts just the flow of commerce through the Taiwan Straits, that’s going to affect virtually every economy in the world given how much goes through there every day. Semiconductors, chips, the things that we have in our smartphones, in our dishwashers, in our automobiles – most of those are actually manufactured on Taiwan. And if that’s interrupted, the entire world economy’s going to be interrupted. That’s why we’re so focused on making sure that these differences get resolved peacefully, not by coercion, not by force, and our concern is that China has moved to a policy of thinking about doing it coercively and by force.
QUESTION: And is – was there something specific in our intelligence that led you to believe that it’s happening faster than anticipated?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we see it in China’s actions. We see it in the military exercises, we see it in the deployment of their forces, but I do think in the first instance this is about trying to put pressure on people, on Taiwan, such that they give in to that pressure. But we have concerns that over time if that doesn’t work that China might resort to force. It’s vitally important that they don’t do that.
QUESTION: About the vital importance, two final questions for you. You mentioned President Xi Jinping. I believe you made comments earlier this week that China is, quote, “more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad” under his leadership.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes.
QUESTION: He will be the leader of China for the foreseeable future. How do we navigate that relationship, given everything that’s at stake – climate change, global health – if this is the leader with whom you’re working now?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, you put your finger on it. Because the challenge that we have is this is in many ways the most consequential, complicated relationship that we have, and you can’t put it on a bumper sticker. There are increasingly adversarial aspects to the relationship, where we’re potentially in conflict. We want to avoid conflict; we don’t want a Cold War, we don’t want direct conflict. But we have to be very vigilant about that. We’re clearly in competition, and it’s very important that we succeed in that competition. But we also need to find ways to cooperate where we can, and exactly on the issues you mentioned, things like climate, like global health after the pandemic, because China has a major role to play. And we won’t be able to solve a lot of these problems unless they’re playing it.
On the competition piece of this, here is what’s most important and here’s what we’re doing. First, we’re investing in ourselves, because the greatest source of our strength is the investments we make in ourselves. Just a short while ago, there was a remarkable piece of legislation that passed Congress, a bipartisan piece of legislation called the CHIPS and Science Act, which is making a major reinvestment in those chips, in those semiconductors, to make them here in the United States so we never have to worry about being cut off from them in the future. A major investment in science, in research and development, to make sure that we remain the technologic leader.
The second thing we need to do and we’re doing is to get in ever-closer partnership with other countries, like-minded countries. Because as strong and powerful as we are, we’re going to be more effective in dealing with the challenge posed by China when we’re working with others.
Just to give you a very quick example, we are – the United States – we’re about 20 percent, 25 percent of the world economy. And if we have a problem with China – for example, the unfair practices it engages in that are not fair to our workers or our businesses – it’s one thing when we’re trying to get China to change its conduct. It’s another thing if other countries in Europe, in Asia, join with us. That might be 50 or 60 percent of the world economy; it’s a lot harder for China to ignore that.
So that’s where diplomacy comes in. We’ve been working to build these partnerships, build these relationships, so that together we can work to get China to change conduct that we don’t like.
QUESTION: We’re out of time, sir, but we can’t get out of this conversation without talking briefly about Russia and Ukraine. Our intelligence has been so good with respect to what Russia will do in Ukraine, there is that fear now that Vladimir Putin might turn to nuclear weapons given the embarrassments he’s suffered on the battlefield. What does our intelligence say on that? And if it goes down that road, sir, how does this conflict escalate?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, there’s been loose talk by Vladimir Putin about nuclear weapons, which first and foremost is the height of irresponsibility. Second, it’s something that we do take very seriously, because we’ve seen the actions that Russia’s already taken in Ukraine in terms of brutalizing the country, bombing civilians, bombing hospitals, bombing power stations, not military targets. The aggression to begin with, trying to take over a country by force.
So we take it very seriously. We watch it very carefully. We have not seen reason at this point to change our own nuclear posture, but we’re watching it carefully, and we’ve also been very clear directly and privately with Putin and with Russia about the consequences that would follow any use of nuclear weapons.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for your time.