Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Anantara Siam Hotel
MS BLAUW: Since we have only seven minutes, I’m just going to go straight to it.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Absolutely.
MS BLAUW: Rule-based international order is the term that we heard you talk about a lot in the past — one year, at least. Why suddenly this term becomes something forefront?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, let’s remember what it is. After two world wars, countries came together around the United Nations to try to make sure that the world would never go to war again. And out of that grew a commitment to having some basic understandings, basic principles, basic rules about how countries would relate to one another: respect for sovereignty, for independence, for territorial integrity, for human rights and the universal declaration of human rights, which, along with the United Nations charter, are the foundations of this rules-based order. And then, over the years, international law grew from that.
Those are the basic principles that we think are important, because they’ve allowed us, with a lot of imperfections, to make sure that there wasn’t another global conflict, that countries help preserve peace, stability. And that created an environment in which countries could grow, economies could grow, many people could be lifted from poverty into the middle class.
So one of the reasons that we raise it now is because we see it being challenged. It’s being challenged by Russia in its aggression against Ukraine. Because it’s not just about the terrible disruption and death in Ukraine, it’s also about the fact that, if Russia is allowed to do what it’s doing, that means that we’re going to go back to a world in which might makes right, in which big nations can bully small nations. That’s the opposite of the rules-based order.
And in other ways we see China posing a challenge to the order in the way that it acts with increasing aggression in the region, and with increasing repression at home, in China.
MS BLAUW: About a year ago, I think, you gave an interview and said that China is the only country in the world that have the means economically, military, and influence to challenge this order. Is this still that case?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
MS BLAUW: And why do you think they have to do that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, that – I suppose you should ask them. But yes, that remains the case.
And I think China actually wants an international order, but with a difference. Whereas, the order that we’ve been trying to defend and uphold is basically liberal in its values, China may seek a more illiberal order that reflects maybe a different set of values. And the question is what kind of world do people want to live in?
Now, at the same time, for us, for many countries around the world, the relationship with China is one of the most consequential relationships, one of the most complex relationships. And where we disagree, as we do, we’ll make that very clear, we’ll stand up for our principles, what we believe in, our interests. At the same time, I think there are many potential areas of cooperation with China, because, as two leading countries in the world, we have a responsibility where we can, where our interests overlap, where they coincide, to find ways to cooperate on things like climate change, on global health, on counter-narcotics, on dealing with the food crisis that the world faces.
So our hope would be that, even as we are a competition with China, and even as we have profound differences, we can also find ways to cooperate.
MS BLAUW: So you said a lot. I mean, the U.S. says often that Thailand is a very good friend, a close friend, important ally in the region. Where do you see Thailand and ASEAN in that rule-based order?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we have a longstanding partnership with Thailand. In fact, it goes back 190 years to the establishment of diplomatic relations. But more recently we’ve had a very strong alliance that’s been reaffirmed, and the work we do together to try to preserve security and stability in the region.
But just today we signed a document together that lays out our vision for the relationship, not just the alliance, but in all its breadth and depth: the economic dimension, the people-to-people dimension, the values dimension. And for us, Thailand is a critical partner.
We see this in a lot of different practical ways. For example, Thailand is a founding member with us of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which is going to help, I think, address some of the most critical needs of people in both of our countries in the 21st century economy.
Similarly, Thailand has played an important role in COVID-19, and is taking part with us in something we call the Global Action Plan, to make sure that shots continue to get into arms, so that we can finally put an end to COVID-19 to get beyond the pandemic.
We’re working closely together in ASEAN, we’re working together in APEC, where Thailand is in the lead this year. We’ll be taking the baton next year.
MS BLAUW: Just several weeks ago, the Secretary Austin was here, and now you are here. It seems like U.S. is trying to be more friendly, or forging closer relationship, or – I mean, a friend, asking a friend to choose some side, maybe.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, we’re – well, two things. First, the fact that I’m here, the fact that Secretary Austin was here is simply an affirmation, a re-affirmation of the importance that we attach to the partnership, and the many things that we’re doing together.
Second, we’re not asking anyone to choose. We simply want to make sure that we’re offering a choice, that they have a choice. And we have a very affirmative, positive vision for what the future can be.
We want to make sure that, as we’re moving forward, we’re all engaged in a race to the top, not a race to the bottom. We want to make sure that, as we go forward, the rights of workers are protected, the environment is protected, that the rights of people to speak their minds is protected, that we think about what we can do together because not a single one of the challenges that we face – all of our countries, whether it’s Thailand, whether it’s the United States – the really big challenges, like climate change, like global health, like the impact that all these new technologies are having on our lives, no one country can effectively address them alone.
The United States believes strongly that we need to be acting in partnership, and Thailand is a very close partner.
MS BLAUW: Going back to the rules-based international order that you say China and Russia is challenging, is there anything you see that Thailand and ASEAN can do more?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think that countries that believe in the value of the order and support it can speak up for it and, as necessary, defend it. We see that, again, with the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Thailand has spoken out strongly. It has voted at the United Nations, along with many other countries, 141 countries that condemned the Russian aggression and are standing with Ukraine.
It’s very important that Thailand’s voice continue to be heard. Other countries look to Thailand. The example that it sets, it really has weight.