Transcript of interview with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Washington’s top diplomat holds roundtable with Japanese media in Tokyo


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters during an online group interview in Tokyo on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy)

TOKYO — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a virtual roundtable with Nikkei Asia and other Japanese media in Tokyo on Wednesday, a day after he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met for “two-plus-two” talks with Japanese counterparts Toshimitsu Motegi and Nobuo Kishi.

Here is an edited transcript of the group interview with Blinken:

— Opening remarks

The partnership between the United States and Japan is absolutely vital. I think it’s vital to our country’s respective citizens to the region, and in so many ways to the world. It really starts with our common commitment to democracy. And I think that’s especially significant today because democracy is under challenge and under threat in ways that it hasn’t been before, certainly not in recent years, particularly from autocratic countries were on the rise around the world.

Even in some ways, from within, as our systems are challenged, and in particular, I think we have a real premium on demonstrating to people that democracy can deliver for them to make a real difference in their lives. And that’s something that both the United States and Japan should play an important role in demonstrating, but we need to show the democracies are in fact, more stable, more open, more committed to human rights, more committed to progress for their citizens. So I think it’s more important than ever that the United States and Japan, two of the world’s leading democracies actually stand up together for democratic values and show the world that democracy is in fact the best path forward.

— What is your view on China’s so-called vaccine diplomacy?

With regard to the COVID-19 vaccine, a few things are important. First, we all need to understand that no one will be entirely safe until the vast majority of the world is vaccinated. That’s because if the virus is replicating anywhere, it could be mutating. And if it’s mutating, it may come back to bite even populations that have been vaccinated and we’ll have to deal with that problem. We all have a real interest, a self interest beyond being the right thing to do, there’s a self interest in making sure that as much of the world as possible is vaccinated.

And of course there’s an economic interest too because if countries are not vaccinated, their economies continue to suffer as a result of dislocations from COVID-19, that’s going to affect us as well. So, that’s one of the reasons why President Biden made a very, very early and significant commitment to the COVAX facility to promote access to vaccines around the world. We invested $2 billion in COVAX, and we’re going to do significantly more as other countries make additional contributions. And that, in and of itself, I think is a really important development, because it does mean that access to vaccines and everything that goes along with the vaccines will be increased and I hope that COVAX itself further raises its ambitions going forward.

As for the initiative that the Quad countries took, the United States, Japan, Australia and India, this is very significant because it brings our different and respective talents together. Also, over time, it will make a huge number of the vaccines available to more and more people around the world.

Various countries including China have been engaged in so called vaccine diplomacy, and look on one level, of course, the more vaccines are available to more people around the world, the better it is. Of course, sometimes this policy comes with strings attached. And that certain requests are made, and maybe stronger requests are made of countries in order to receive the vaccines, I think that’s deeply unfortunate, because we shouldn’t tie the distribution or access to vaccines to politics or to geopolitics. This needs to be done by anyone who’s doing it because it’s in the overall interest of humanity. So I hope that is the driving principle, that different countries bring, as they’re thinking about creating a greater access to vaccines and distributing more vaccines.

— Do you plan to include the U.K. and the European Union in the Quad’s vaccine distribution framework?

Underscoring the need for safety assurance [is the right thing]. We want to make sure that people around the world are confident in taking the vaccine and that’s why making sure that vaccines are approved by the appropriate expert authorities is so important. It’s also why it’s very important for leaders in different countries that once vaccines are approved, not to try to cast doubt about them and about their health and safety benefits. So that’s also incumbent on us.

With regard to the Quad initiative we’re just putting this into place, and it’s going to take some time to fully get off the ground. But let’s see how it goes. I think the ambition of the initial initiative is already very, very significant. And, again, and I hope that we’ll also see that COVAX, the initial initiative also expands its own horizons in terms of the number of people that it hopes to provide access to vaccines to. So all of this is a work in progress. The good news is we’re making real progress, and we’re seeing production of vaccines ramping up dramatically including in the United States, we’re seeing more and more people get vaccinated. And I hope that what we can also do as countries work on this together, is learn from each other. And in many ways, share best practices. No one has a monopoly on the best ideas, and the more we’re working with others, the more we’re learning from others, the better off we’re all going to be.

— So are you saying that you want to leave to COVAX for the inclusion of countries other than the Quad?

Well I think we want to start with what we proposed in the Quad and get that fully off the ground, and then see where we are. This is moving so quickly that things today, may look different in a week, a month or two or three months. We’ll have to adjust for what’s possible what’s available. All of that is changing very rapidly.

— How should the government agenda policy be made to ensure women’s rights and gender equality?

Let me speak to the United States and to our administration. Women’s rights and gender parity. All of these are driving principles that are animating President Biden and our administration and I think you’re seeing a reflection of that in the government that the president has put in place. Of course, it started with his running mate, Vice President Harris, but we’re seeing that in the cabinet. We’re seeing that in the senior positions that are being filled in the various agencies including at the State Department. This is very, very important that we have the most the most senior jobs, people who truly reflect the diversity of our country. And of course, that’s women, but it’s also different minority groups of one kind or another, who represent the full fabric of the United States.

And the President believes strongly that the greatest strength, and maybe the one of the most unique assets that the United States brings is its diversity. That has to be reflected in our government. So, I think you’ll see that across the board. It’s also something in various ways that’s animated President Biden throughout his career when he was in Congress as the United States senator. He led different efforts including something called the Violence Against Women Act, which was a very important piece of legislation in the United States to put in place laws and other means to protect women from violence. We, of course, have worked that issue internationally as well. And it’s something that if you ask him of all of the things he has done in his career, as the proudest stuff, he would probably point to the Violence Against Women Act. By the way, I’ve seen that in different ways in action. We once visited one of the hotlines, call centers that was established and came out of that act, and the difference that it’s made in women’s lives who were subject to threatened by violence is dramatic. That’s the negative side of the agenda, and the positive side of the agenda is making sure that we have a government that is genuinely inclusive and reflective of our diversity, including with regard to gender. So you’ll see again as different jobs are filled, I think we’ll make good on that.

— What is the U.S.’s standing position on the holding of the Tokyo Olympics this summer?

With regard to the Olympics, we will support whatever decision the government of Japan makes in terms of how it wants to go forward. And with regard to any of the specifics about that, our own Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee are the key actors and we’ll certainly look to them as well. But we’ll be supportive of whatever the government here decides to do.

 How is the U.S. working on nuclear disarmament?

I think that’s an incredibly important issue, one that we’re going to be very, very focused on a couple of things on that. First, we’re going to undertake something called the Nuclear Posture Review, which is to look at our own nuclear weapons policy to make determinations about both what we need to sustain deterrence and defense but also look at how we can continue to reduce reliance in the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy. This is something we made as a significant progress during the Obama-Biden administration, and we’ll undertake that review in this administration in the months ahead.

As you know very well, there’s an implicit bargain in the Non Proliferation Treaty, to which we’re very proud signatory and that is that countries that don’t have nuclear weapons vow not to acquire them but in turn, countries that do have nuclear weapons vow to make their best efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate their ourselves. We will do our part to be a strong leader in that effort, but it starts with a nuclear posture review that I think will begin in the weeks ahead.

— What are the strengths of authoritarianism, compared to democracy?

This is a really important question, and particularly important in this moment because one of the things that’s happening is that autocracies are trying to make the case that they are more effective in delivering what their people want and need. And conversely, they are trying to show that democracies are failing in their ability to deliver for people and that really is the major test of our time to demonstrate that in fact democracy does deliver and deliver better and in better ways than autocracies can. That’s the challenge we face.

But when we see in so many democracies, including in our own, and of course we’ve just had the experience but when we see hyper partisanship, when we see sometimes political paralysis, when we see difficulties in delivering the things that people need to have a secure life with health and opportunity, when we see in particular, people fighting each other, that makes the case that autocracies are actually trying to make themselves does that work for them. So I think we have a premium, more than any recent time, to show that within our democratic countries, and among them, we can work effectively together to continue to make life every day just a little bit better for all of our citizens to make everyone a little bit more secure, a little bit more prosperous, a little healthier a little more, more tolerant. That’s the challenge.

Our failure to do that, our inability to do that, is going to play right into the hands of autocrats and so the case that they’re trying to make to their to their own people: “Our system is doing just fine and I look at them. Look at what a mess it is, you don’t want that. You’re better off with what you have here.” I believe very strongly that ultimately, of course, people need to have their material necessities, taken care of. They need to have some basic opportunity in progress, but they also inherently want to live free and open eyes, and that is the great benefit that democracy brings as well, so we have to marry our ability to deliver practical things in an efficient way with the values that come with free and open societies.

This is again why it’s so important for the United States and Japan to be working together because we are both leading democracies, we have a tremendous amount to offer in what we can contribute together in the example that hopefully we help set. Also dealing very directly and openly with our own challenges as they present themselves. President Biden has talked a lot about the United States, from his perspective, the power of our example is as important if not more important than the example of our power. And that’s to him, an animating principle as he thinks about what we need to do.

— How do you expect Japan to fulfill its role on defense capability?

With Japan, we have an incredibly strong partnership when it comes to defense and security. I’ll leave it to the Japanese government to describe, and to go into detail about what it is doing to further strengthen and enhance defense capacity. But I can just say for the perspective of the United States that Japan is a very highly valued partner, and we’re very pleased as well that we work to extend our discussions about host nation support. My expectations will reach a long term multiyear agreement on that in the months ahead. That’s, I think also very, very positive.

But the burden sharing pieces is fundamental because this obligation that we have as free and open societies, to make sure that we have the means to defend ourselves and to defend each other. Of course this comes with financial burdens because one has to make investments necessary for defense, it comes with burdens in terms of our human resources, because we have to make sure that we’re resourced appropriately and that our people are in service of our country and in its defense are properly cared for and supported and resourced.

Particularly when we’re in an alliance, it sometimes means undertaking burdens that are shared, because we’re both in this together. And in this incredibly complex environment that we’re in, in many ways security unfortunately costs more. And so, the burden increases a bit on everyone, but the spirit that we have of a partnership and working together. And the acknowledgement that I think we both bring to this is that we have to make these investments, and we have to recognize that things are increasingly more costly to make sure that we’re in the right place. That’s really the basis for the understandings that we have, and the steps that we’ll both be taking in the months and years ahead. But I know that the Prime Minister’s Office and others can speak in detail and with eloquence to the work that Japan is doing on that front.

— How does the U.S. assess the way Japan has been handling issues related to China’s behavior? With tensions mounting around the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan, what role do you expect from Japan to keep stability?

With regard to China, I think one of the things that the United States and Japan see is China is acting both more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad, including in the East China Sea, including with regard to the Senkaku Islands, as well as in the South China Sea and also with regard to Taiwan. Raising tensions, not diminishing them. And it’s important for us to make clear together that China cannot expect to act with impunity when it comes to its actions in these different places.

We have a real stake in this because this is about making sure that we maintain a peaceful, stable environment, and it is about making sure that things that really matter to us like freedom of navigation, freedom of commerce, that all of that is sustained. And of course, it really matters that countries don’t take steps to make the possibility of conflict, greater, not less. So that’s a shared concern with regard to the Senkakus where we’re joined to Japan. We have a security treaty and our Article Five covers the Senkakus. And so we’ve spent some time talking about that. And as well, of course, Japan has real interest in what happens with regard to Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits and we spent some time comparing notes on that.

I hope that Beijing will reconsider some of the actions that it has been taking that are just increasing tensions, instead of decreasing them and we’ll have an opportunity in just a few days to talk to our counterparts from China, after going to Seoul this afternoon, heading to Anchorage, Alaska, where with the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will be meeting with our senior Chinese counterparts, including director of the office of the central commission for foreign affairs Yang Jiechi and also state councilor and foreign minister Wang Yi. So we look forward to the opportunity to lay out in very clear terms for our Chinese counterparts, some of the concerns that we have about the actions they’re taking, and I suspect they’ll have some concerns too and we’ll hear what they have to say.

— What will be the agenda with North Korea?

I’m confident that whatever the outcome of the review the abductee issue will remain. And I was very moved by the letter [from families of abductees] that I read and we feel a strong solidarity with Japan and people in Japan on this issue.

— Now the relationship between Japan and South Korea is worse than ever, but how do you think the trilateral alliance can work?

I believe that it can and indeed that it must. I’m happy to report that even as we’ve been working on our North Korea policy review, we’ve actually had trilateral conversations with Japan and South Korea about North Korea, and we have a strong shared common interest in dealing with the challenge posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, its missile program and its human rights abuses, and so there’s already been conversations and collaboration.

I believe from my own experience when I was last in government, I spent a lot of time working with my Japanese and South Korean counterparts, and we found through the agenda of the trilateral group that we set up that on so many issues, we had everything in common and every reason to work together well beyond the DPRK. And I think all three countries will benefit in that. So, at the end of the day I think that we each will find that it’s in our respective interests to pursue that cooperation, and I’m confident we’ll be able to do that.


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