US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Russia poses an immediate threat to the free and open international system and acknowledged China to be Washington's "only competitor" with the intent to reshape the international order.
Addressing his year-end news conference in Washington on Thursday, Blinken also underlined that diplomacy is the only way to definitively end the Russian conflict in Ukraine.
“For while Russia poses an immediate threat to the free and open international system, the PRC (People's Republic of China) is our only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective,” Blinken told reporters in Washington.
The US has indicated solidarity with several Asian nations, several of whom have conflicts with an aggressive China which is flexing its muscles in the strategic Indo-Pacific region.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it.
Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea. China also has territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea.
The South China Sea and the East China Sea are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources.
They are also vital to global trade.
Although the US lays no claims to the disputed waters, it has challenged China's growing territorial claims in the South China Sea by deploying warships and fighter jets to assert freedom of navigation and overflight patrols in the strategically vital region.
The US secretary of state reaffirmed Washington's commitment to preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and we continue to raise concerns and take joint action around China's human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet, the erosion of freedom of speech and the press in Hong Kong.
China views Taiwan, a self-governing island, as a rebel province which should be reunited with the Chinese mainland, even by force.
“Until President Putin changes course, the best way to improve the prospects of a just and durable peace, to actually advance the prospects for meaningful diplomacy, is sustaining our strong support for Ukraine,” Blinken said.
The Kremlin warned on Wednesday that increasing the supply of US arms to Ukraine would severely aggravate the devastating 10-month war ignited by Russia's invasion, with Russia's defence minister Sergei Shoigu calling for expanding Moscow's military by at least 500,000 people.
Responding to a question on the North Korean nuclear issue, Blinken said China has an important role to play in resolving it.
“It has the strongest, deepest relationship of any country in the world with North Korea. I think it's in China's interest not to see these kinds of provocative actions continue. And we have conversations with China; this is something President Xi and President Biden talked about,” he said.
“I expect I'll continue that conversation when I get to China early next year, about what we hope that China will do to try to convince North Korea to move in another direction,” Blinken said.
“We have said very clearly, and it remains the case, that we're open to diplomacy without any preconditions. We remain committed to seeing the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. To date, North Korea's not engaged on that basis, but that remains a possibility. And I think China can play a role in helping to move things in that direction,” he added.
When it comes to human rights abuses that are being committed by China, whether it's in Xinjiang, Tibet, or other places, including for example in growing convergence on export controls not only going to the most sensitive technologies that might help China advance its military capacity, but also technology that could be used for the surveillance of people and other tools of repression against the rights of minorities and others in China, the top American diplomat said.