QUESTION: Well, you’ve just wrapped up two days of intense talks. What’s been the tone of the discussions here?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s hard to overstate how, first of all, much genuine friendship there is among the four of us – among the Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, among the Foreign Minister Penny Wong and myself and Lloyd Austin. So it starts there. So there’s tremendous complicity just on a personal level, but I think that’s a reflection of the fact that the partnership between our two countries is stronger and more, I think, valuable than it’s ever been. We’re a little bit a reflection of that, but as a result, we share everything. We talk about everything and we do it in the most open possible way, and I think there’s a real deep understanding of each other, and that’s to the benefit of the relationship.
QUESTION: You’re obviously in constant contact with —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah.
QUESTION: — your Australian counterparts.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah.
QUESTION: But how important is it to have these face-to-face meetings?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s invaluable. As much as we’re able to do by phone or by videoconference, there’s something about actually being in the same room. You really have a way of communicating to each other that is amplified by being present. And being able to spend some time, too, just on a personal level, not just going through —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — the very important material and work that we have, but also getting a chance to talk about our own lives, families, interests. We have the luxury of a little bit more time to do that when we’re actually meeting together —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — and especially over the course of two days.
QUESTION: So you feel you’re at a point where that relationship goes beyond just diplomacy?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, absolutely. They’re genuine friendships and genuine admiration for our friends, for Richard and Penny. And it makes a big difference. And we also had, I think, the wonderful opportunity to have a lunch with the prime minister yesterday, and he has, I think it’s safe to say, a very strong bond with President Biden. They actually come from really very similar perspectives.
QUESTION: They do, and similar backgrounds in a way.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And similar backgrounds. So that’s an important and powerful thing. But it was wonderful to have the opportunity to spend time to hear from the prime minister, to hear his thoughts, his reflections on the multiplicity of issues that we’re dealing with together.
I think if you asked the four of us – Lloyd, myself, Richard, Penny – we’d probably all say, for better or worse, we’re in a growth industry right now. So many different things happening, so many challenges, but it’s all the more reason why this relationship between our countries is so important, especially when things are challenging. These alliances, these partnerships are incredibly meaningful.
QUESTION: No shortage of things to discuss.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That is true.
QUESTION: All right. You have got so much on your plate, juggling war and peace, climate disaster. What is your priority?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The priority really starts, precisely because we have so many things happening, in continuing to strengthen and to build our partnerships and our alliances with our closest friends. That’s really how we put ourselves in a strong position to confront the myriad challenges that we’re facing. That’s why this visit to Australia, the work we’re doing day in, day out with Australia, matters so much to the United States.
QUESTION: This is your third visit to the Pacific region in just two months.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: Why the sense of urgency? What are you so worried about?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s less a sense of urgency than a recognition that for us in the United States, as a Pacific nation, so much of our future is in the broad Indo-Pacific region. And we’re trying to reflect that in the way we’re spending our time, the way we’re dedicating our resources, all of our engagement. So I think what you’re seeing, not just with me but with many of my counterparts in government, is really a reflection of the priority we’re placing on the region as a place of extraordinary growth, extraordinary opportunity, extraordinary potential for the United States.
QUESTION: We heard you speak earlier about China and the threat that it poses. How do you strike the balance of pushing for peace while you are preparing for war?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, we have an obligation that we feel strongly to responsibly manage the relationship with China. For us as for Australia and many other countries, it’s one of the most consequential and complicated relationships that we have, and you can’t sum it up on a bumper sticker on a car. There are aspects of the relationship that are clearly competitive, and that’s maybe the main focus. There are areas where we have to contest our differences. But there are also places where we should be able to cooperate if it’s in our mutual interest and actually for the greater good.
So we’re looking first and foremost at making sure that we’re managing it responsibly. That starts with engaging. That starts with talking, with communicating. I’ve had the opportunity to be in Beijing just a few weeks ago for extensive conversations. I’ve seen my Chinese counterpart since then. Other members of our government have been doing the same thing. We expect Chinese counterparts to come to the United States.
But we’ve been very clear with China that even as we’re working to engage to make sure that we don’t miscommunicate, that we don’t have misunderstandings that turn competition into conflict, we will continue no doubt to do and say things that they don’t like just as they’ll continue to do and say things that we don’t like.
QUESTION: Do you really think Xi Jinping is listening or wants to listen?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think there’s a demand signal not to – on – not just on us but on China from countries throughout the region as well as around the world that China also responsibly manage this relationship as well as its relationships with other countries. I don’t think that Beijing can be immune to that any more than we’re immune to that.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about the AUKUS agreement. It’s facing hurdles. We’re seeing backlash from the U.S. Congress. Can you guarantee Australia is going to get these submarines?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, Congress has a critical role to play in our system, and we’re working through the details. But everything I’ve heard and seen suggests to me that there is robust bipartisan support and a commitment on the part of Congress to move forward. So that’s fully my expectation.
QUESTION: You can understand the concern, though. Ten years from now, Australian Government is holding a ticket for a Virginia class; the U.S. Navy is holding a ticket. We’re both in the same queue. Who gets it first?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, there are important details to work through. That’s exactly what we’re doing. But I really am confident based on everything I’ve heard from our Congress that that support is both robust, it’s bipartisan – which is critically important – and what I’m hearing is very much a commitment to move forward.
QUESTION: We recently spent some time with the U.S. military in waters off Taiwan, and your generals told us that war is imminent; they’re ready. So isn’t AUKUS all too late?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, no, on the contrary. First, AUKUS of course is about modernizing an already strong and decades-old defense and military partnership, as well as of course working together on Pillar Two on the technologies that are going to be shaping the next – the century that we’re in. But when it comes to Taiwan, our focus – Australia’s focus – is absolutely on preserving the status quo, making sure that no one disrupts the status quo by unilateral action. One of the successes of the relationship between the United States and China going back five decades is precisely that: our – the ability we’ve had to manage the challenges concerning Taiwan. Our focus is on making sure that that status quo is preserved, and I believe that’s also very much what Australia is focused on.
QUESTION: If there were to be an invasion or a blockade of Taiwan, would the U.S. expect Australia to follow?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about what may happen, but one of the things that we’ve emphasized to Beijing – and not just us, many other countries – is there’s a deep international interest and concern about Taiwan precisely because were there to be a crisis, the impact on countries around the world – quite literally the entire world – is likely to be severe. Fifty percent of commercial container traffic goes through the Taiwan Strait every day. In other words, world commerce depends on it. Seventy percent of the semiconductors that are powering everything from our cell phones to our automobiles to our dishwashers, they’re made on Taiwan. So any disruption could have severe consequences for the world. That’s why one of the things that Beijing is hearing not just from us, not just from Australia, but from countries around the world is you need to act responsibly; no one should do anything that disrupts the status quo; any differences have to be resolved peacefully.
QUESTION: And none of us can afford a conflict there.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: None of us can afford a conflict, and that’s why we’re determined to avoid it.
QUESTION: Today marks 521 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. Do you see an end to this war while Vladimir Putin is in power?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, the most important impediment to ending the war is Putin’s conviction that he can outlast Ukraine and outlast the many countries that are supporting Ukraine. And we’re working very hard to disabuse him of that notion. Of course the war could end tomorrow if Putin decided to stop. And first and foremost, we’re determined – and so many other countries are determined – to continue to help Ukraine defend itself, to take back the territory that Russia’s taken from it by force.
And it’s not just about an aggression against Ukraine and Ukrainian citizens, as important as that is. It’s also an aggression against the very principles that are at the heart of keeping peace and security around the world: the idea that countries have to have their territorial integrity respected, their sovereignty respected, their independence respected. If we allowed what Russia is doing in Ukraine to go forward with impunity, then it’s a pandora’s box that opens up and every would-be aggressor around the world will say, well, if they can get away with it, I can get away with it too. That’s a recipe for a world in conflict. That’s why so many countries have stood up, including half a world away here in Australia, Japan, Korea, many countries that are far removed from Europe. They understand the stakes not just for Ukraine and Ukrainians, but for everyone.
QUESTION: Your job is all about managing risk. Vladimir Putin is threatening nuclear war, and this month we’ve seen the hottest temperatures on this planet on record. What is the greater threat to humanity in your mind, war or climate change?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, you can’t, I think, have a hierarchy. There are some things that are front and center – the wolf at the door – including potential conflict, but there’s no doubt that climate represents an existential challenge to all of us. It’s one of the reasons we’re so gratified at Australia’s leadership when it comes to combating climate change; that Australia is stepping up in the way that it is sends a very powerful message. It’s both practical in what Australia is doing, but it also is the symbolism of an important country taking a clear stand and also taking action against climate.
So for us, this is the existential challenge of our times, but that doesn’t mean that in the meantime there are not severe challenges to the international order like Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. We have to multitask. Basically we’re, for better or worse, in a growth industry right now. We’ve got a multiplicity of challenges and we have to be able to engage them simultaneously. It’s again one of the reasons why having such a strong partnership and alliance with Australia matters more than ever.
QUESTION: With all that going on, you must feel some days that you just have the weight of the world on your shoulders. I mean, how do you stay optimistic or hopeful?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Because time and again, as much as we see challenges, as much as we see conflict, I keep seeing examples of the best of humanity, of men and women in one way or another coming together to get something done, to make progress, to demonstrate that the better angels of our nature usually carry the day after we’ve tried everything else. And I keep seeing that everywhere I go around the world.
So that’s reassuring even when we have these challenges. And again, the other thing to me that’s so reassuring is the fact that we have such strong partnerships and alliances. We’re not in this alone. We’re working it together, and at the end of the day that gives me great confidence that we’ll succeed.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for your time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: Safe travels home.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. Great to be with you.