US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tests positive for Covid-19 ahead of China policy speech

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Those seeking clarity on US President Joe Biden’s long-awaited China policy will need to wait longer after Washington’s top diplomat Antony Blinken tested positive for Covid-19.

Blinken’s speech on the subject, scheduled for Thursday at George Washington University, will be moved to an alternative date “at some point in the not-too-distant future”, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a regular press briefing.

Price added that Blinken is fully vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 and “experiencing only mild symptoms”. The State Department said in a separate statement that the top envoy has not seen Biden in several days, and is not considered a close contact, according to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

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‘Goal is to avoid catastrophe’: US to outline strategy for dealing with China

The secretary is the latest official in Biden’s cabinet to test positive for COVID-19. In the past several weeks, Vice-President Kamala Harris, White House press secretary Jen Psaki, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Merrick Garland all have contracted the illness.

Biden has faced criticism for not having an official strategy to tackle challenges that China has created for Washington on various fronts, including trade and national defence, more than a year into his presidency.

The administration’s attention has been diverted to Europe by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and in a bid to reassure its partners in the Indo-Pacific, the White House has reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining engagement in that region.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (second from right), joined by national security adviser Jake Sullivan (right), speaks while facing Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi (second from left) and China’s State Councillor Wang Yi (left) at the opening session of US-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. Photo: AP
Secretary of State Antony Blinken (second from right), joined by national security adviser Jake Sullivan (right), speaks while facing Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi (second from left) and China’s State Councillor Wang Yi (left) at the opening session of US-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. Photo: AP

The Biden administration also released its Indo-Pacific strategy in early February, pledging to boost its diplomatic, economic and security cooperation with regional players to counter China’s increasing regional and global influence.

That includes larger roles in the Indo-Pacific for European and Asian allies and partners, including Taiwan; opening new US embassies and consulates in the region; launching the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and expanding the role of the US Coast Guard.

“Our objective is not to change [China] but to shape the strategic environment in which it operates, building a balance of influence in the world that is maximally favourable to the United States, our allies and partners, and the interests and values we share,” the document said.

Despite the strategy’s provisions and their justifications, American officials have repeatedly stressed that China is not the sole focus of their regional initiatives.

Biden is set to host a summit with Asean leaders in Washington from May 12 to May 13. He is also expected to make his first trip to Asia as president later this month, with a stop in Seoul before attending a Quad summit in Tokyo.

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