Transcript: Joe Biden foreign policy adviser Antony Blinken on COVID shortfalls, failures in Syria

The following is a transcript of a conversation with Antony Blinken, former United States Deputy Secretary of State, former Deputy National Security Advisor and currently foreign policy adviser for former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign. The conversation, in partnership with Meridian International, aired Tuesday, May 19, 2020. 


Highlights:
  • On the race to a COVID vaccine: "There are strong incentives for countries to figure out who the most vulnerable populations are, how we can deal with them, how we can help treat them. I also think that a multiplicity of efforts at a vaccine is probably a good thing because whoever is quote unquote first may not be so fast in producing whatever they develop and then distributing whatever they develop. And I think a lot of hopefully multiple things will come on line. More or less in the same time period. And that's going to be very valuable, everyone. But it really does require some international thinking and cooperation and coordination to figure out the most effective way to maximize our ability to get people vaccinated when the vaccine is there, to get things manufactured, to get things distributed."
  • On "failure" in Syria: "The last administration has to acknowledge that we failed, not for want of trying, but we failed. We failed to prevent a horrific loss of life. We failed to prevent massive displacement of people internally in Syria and, of course, externally as refugees. And it's something that I will take with me for the rest of my days. It's something that I feel very strongly. So, you know, what happened, unfortunately, since then is that a horrific situation was made arguably even worse. And to the extent the United States had any remaining leverage in Syria to try to effectuate some more positive outcome. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has more or less turned that up to pulling out entirely in Syria has taken away significant leverage."
  • On after action report needed post-COVID crisis: "If Joe Biden is president in January, we certainly need an after action report...the main thing is to make sure that once—first that we get through this—but once we do that, we put in place systems to make sure to the best of our ability it never happens again."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you so much. And thank you all for listening and watching at home. Thank you Meridian for hosting this conversation. I want to bring in Tony Blinken, who you just heard has resonated, described there. But if we are looking ahead six months out to an election, eight months out, potentially to a new presidency, will no doubt be playing a key role in shaping some of foreign policy in a Biden administration. And I think, Tony, it is not overstating things to say that our country and our world are literally being reshaped as we speak, in particular because of the impact of this virus. So on day one, what does the first foreign policy priority become the market first?

ANTONY BLINKEN : It's wonderful to be with you always. And let me just say quickly to Stuart. Thank you so much for bringing us all together. I think that, you know, especially now when people are disconnected, this kind of connectivity is more important than ever. And so I really thought Meridien for continuing to venture forth with its programming and convening all of us. And I'm delighted to participate in a Zoom. Thank you so much for cohosting today. We'll come back to it, no doubt. But I'm in violent agreement with with your remarks. So thank you for everything you're doing and everything that these is doing also to keep us going in this challenging time. Margaret, to your question, it seems highly likely that if Joe Biden is elected president come January 19 will still be the dominant issue that we have to confront. Hopefully by then we'll have made serious advances on the medical side and everyone has their fingers crossed. And the best minds in the world are working on this. But the economic repercussions are for sure. Still going to be felt. And now in that sense, it's a little bit reminiscent of what the Obama Biden administration inherited in 2009 coming in with the financial crisis. And I remember well the looks on the faces of senior officials in the administration the first couple of months as they were getting these economic briefings about the true state of our economy. And it was the single dominant thing. Here's what I hope happens come January. And a room pointed to this in his opening remarks. I think  there's going to be a premium on international leadership, international cooperation, international coordination to make sure that hopefully as we're rebounding economically from this crisis, we're doing it in a way that maximizes the chances of coming back quickly, effectively, smoothly. And a lot of that does require international cooperation, coordination. In 2008, 2009, the G7 or G8. At the time, the G20 played critical roles in coordinating macroeconomic policy, making sure that we could mitigate the ongoing downsides and maximize some of the upsides. Unfortunately, that's been sorely lacking this time around. You know, when the crisis broke out, when the virus first went viral. The United States was in the chair of the G7. Normally, we would have convened a meeting, an emergency session. Unfortunately, we didn't do it. It took President Macron in France to convene the first emergency session, and then it broke down into unfortunate bickering over what to label the crisis. That's not what we need right now. There is a premium on working through a lot of things together. They're going to be a lot of tales on the COVID19. But all we can come to some of those. But I think that's going to be an essential focus, bringing the international community together in a much more effective way to deal with where we are. Come January next year.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I think cooperation, coordination globally. It sounds good, but when it comes to the race for a vaccine by January. [00:12:05] That's one of the most optimistic dates on the calendar for even having a vaccine in trial or potentially even into the community. So how would you roll that out? If yes, you want to have global leadership, but you need to serve the American people first. If a vaccine is manufactured on U.S. soil. Does a Biden administration say it then has to go to the American people first?

ANTONY BLINKEN : Look, we're ultimately all in this together, and we're only going to be strong, as strong as the weakest link in the chain. So there are strong incentives for countries to figure out who the most vulnerable populations are, how we can deal with them, how we can help treat them. I also think that a multiplicity of efforts at a vaccine is probably a good thing because whoever is quote unquote first may not be so fast in producing whatever they develop and then distributing whatever they develop. And I think a lot of hopefully multiple things will come on line. More or less in the same time period. And that's going to be very valuable, everyone. But it really does require some international thinking and cooperation and coordination to figure out the most effective way to maximize our ability to get people vaccinated when the vaccine is there, to get things manufactured, to get things distributed. There is. You know, Margaret, there are different components that go into every aspect of the vaccine. It's not just the vaccine itself. It's the it's the glass. It's the swab. It's the syringe, the whole thing. And the supply chains are pretty complicated. So there's going to be a real incentive in figuring out ways to maximize the speed at which we're able to produce and distribute whatever finally emerges from the best medical minds.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But if a foreign manufacturer produces it on U.S. soil, does that product, as we just saw this dispute with this conversation about Sanofi, the French drugmaker, if they make something in America, does that mean that vaccine has to go first to Americans?

ANTONY BLINKEN : Well, we've got these are things that will have to be worked through, litigated and decided.

But we have to be smart about what we're doing. Of course, every country is going to want to look out for its own. But we should. But if we're not doing this in a way that maximizes our ability to make sure that we're effective across the board, we're actually going to be shooting ourselves in the foot.

MARGARET BRENNAN: One of the things that's been revealed in stark terms in the past few months is America's dependence on Chinese production, particularly of PPE. We've even had respected epidemiologists like Dr. Michael Osterholm say when it comes to generic drugs, generally speaking, we're overly dependent on China. You've had the U.S. tech industry say that when it comes to chips. So how do you bring that back to the United States in a way that doesn't disrupt what you're talking about with international cooperation? Because what is laid out here on these problems is that perhaps there's over-reliance on a global supply chain.

ANTONY BLINKEN : Well, of course, it works in both directions. In fact, chips. The Chinese actually much more reliant on us than the other way. They're having difficulty domestically manufacturing chips through their own for those products. But having said that, look, I think there's going to be and there already is a very strong look by most countries, especially the major countries, at their supply change, at critical technologies, at critical medicines to make sure that at the very least, if something like this happens again, people can be relatively self-sufficient in supplying themselves. So there's going to be more built in redundancy. I think you're going to see countries partner in different ways to assure that supply chains are effective going forward. And they'll there will be a natural tendency to make sure that when it comes to really critical things, you're able to produce it yourself. But I think you have to be careful in doing that, in a sense, not to overcorrect and assume that that means that everything suddenly gets brought, it gets brought home. That is not the way that economies can ultimately function in the 21st century. We can't disentangle everything. It's far too complicated. We're far too intertwined. And there are benefits from that. But when it comes to things that are truly critical, that go to our national security, that go to our national health, we're going have to look very carefully at that and make sure that we can protect ourselves if something like this were to happen again.

MARGARET BRENNAN: With China just in the past few days, you had President Xi make this announcement of a two billion dollar donation. He's also saying he'll dispatch doctors to Africa and the developing world to help fight Corona virus. The U.S. also pledges billions around the world, but the Trump administration is, as you know, threatening to continue a freeze on U.S. funding to the World Health Organization. Would a Biden administration match what Xi Jinping pledged this two billion dollars to fight the virus? Is there a reason for the US to remain the top donor at the World Health Organization? 


ANTONY BLINKEN : So a couple of things. One thing just starting at 60 thousand feet is that a Biden administration would do the opposite of what Trump administration has done in terms of pulling back from our leadership in international organizations, institutions, alliances, because at the end of the day, here's the choice we have. We know that the world does not. Whether we like it or not, the world doesn't organize itself for the last 75 years up until the last few years. The United States has played a lead role in doing a lot of that organizing, helping to establish the rules, the norms, the institutions themselves, animating them, and indeed helping to fund them. And that has worked imperfectly. And a lot of these organizations need reform. But in the absence of us doing it, one of two things happens. Either someone else does. And that may not be in a way that it's looking at this as an American advances our own interests and values or maybe just as bad. No one does. And then you tend to have chaos. So when it comes to the World Health Organization, clearly the World Health Organization has things to answer for in terms of its initial reaction to the to the to the outbreak of covid 19. But at the same time, it has a critical role to play in the response. And it's also doing very important things around the world every single day when it comes to other diseases that continue potentially to plague people, whether it's TB, malaria and so on down the list in pulling back and pulling out. That simply creates a vacuum that someone else is going to fill in. China has now raised his hand and said we're going to fill it. That may not be so smart for us because we want to make sure that the WHO is reformed effectively to be able to deal better than it did with this crisis. And if we're the ones who are helping to guide the reform of the WHO, there's a better chance that that happens. If we're not if we're out of the game and China's in the game, maybe it doesn't happen in the most effective way. From our perspective. So I think it's a big mistake to pull back in the way that we've done. We need to insist on change and on reform and on more effective institutions. But the way to do that is not to go.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you need to remain the top donor to the WHO to do that.

ANTONY BLINKEN : But I would just say that that's look,  that's a debatable proposition. It's good that as other countries emerge and gain strength and resources, that they contribute more. And that's a good thing for the cup,  for the common good, for the collective good. So we don't necessarily have to remain the number one donor, by the way. Most of the money that we provide to the WTO is done on a voluntary basis. These are not formal assessments. Most of the budget that we provide is voluntary. We can make decisions about whether to ratchet that up, ratchet that down. But the main thing is, if we're not in the game and we're not at the table, decisions are going to be made in ways that we may not like.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The vice president, I was looking at some of his remarks of late and he said that China is censoring research on covid 19, making it hard for the rest of the world to beat the virus. He also said that he would have, in hindsight, have demanded that American investigators be allowed into China in the beginning, not just the two that went with the World Health Organization. Is all this just campaign rhetoric to look tough on China, or is there a demand that a Biden administration would make of China to somehow make up for the spread of this virus? Is that what you're driving at?

ANTONY BLINKEN : So China is a great nation. And with that comes great responsibility. And in the case of the virus, the responsibility is even greater because the point of origin was China, irrespective of how it originated. We know that it originated in China. So there's a lot of responsibility that comes with that and certainly for sure in the early going. And unfortunately, even today, China has fallen short of its responsibilities, partial. Initially, it was not forthcoming with information. It was not forthcoming with access to international experts and inspectors, including Americans, to get to work on, for example. And this is not hindsight. Joe Biden in January and early February called on China to provide the access to provide the information and called on President Trump not to take the government, in Beijing's word, for what was going on or what was not going on. Unfortunately, at the time when it was important to insist that China live up to its responsibilities, President Trump did not do that. Not only did he not insist that China provide the necessary information or give the necessary access, he didn't do that. Not only did he not do that, he went out of his way for the better part of two months to praise the government in Beijing for its cooperation and for its transparency. And the record is pretty clear that, unfortunately, the government was doing at that point just the opposite. We continue to have these challenges. So at the same time, Biden was crystal clear that China needed to take steps to live up to its responsibility. So this is not hindsight. This is what he was saying contemporaneously in January and early February when President Trump was doing just the opposite.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So does that mean you support an after-action report, not just on what the WHO did right or wrong, but also one of the prior administration? If Joe Biden is president in January?

ANTONY BLINKEN : We certainly need an after action report. Does not in any situation like this to see whether what our response was and whether it was effective or not and whether we can do it better the next time. But here are a couple of things, Margaret, that I think are critical. I mean, first of all, it is a bit ironic that the Trump administration has gone after the WHO for its clear shortcomings early on. But the shortcomings that it's pointed to that it was late to the game and that it was insufficiently critical of the Chinese government, that is much more accurately a description of the Trump administration's response than it is even the WHO. But the main thing is this: The main thing is to make sure that once—first that we get through this—but once we do that, we put in place systems to make sure to the best of our ability it never happens again. One of the most painful chapters here is that previous administrations, including the Obama-Biden administration, put in place defenses to predict, prevent and mitigate the outbreak of pandemics, including those originating in China. We had a strong CDC presence in China. We had a program—literally called PREDICT—to look at the possible outbreak of diseases. We have, course, had a White House office dedicated to pandemic detection and response. All of that, unfortunately, was either eliminated or vastly diminished by the Trump administration. So our defenses, such as they were, were taken down or eliminated. That has to be reversed. We know we've known that a pandemic was coming. And the last thing you want to do is to take down your frontline defenses so that you hopefully can prevent it or get ahead of it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when you are talking about both global cooperation and getting tough on China, given U.S. dependence on China, doesn't it make it that much more challenging to do both at once? Joe Biden said he wants to move 60 percent of U.S. sea power to Asia to let the Chinese understand they can't go any further with graps in the South China Sea and other areas. He's called Xi Jinping a thug. All these things sound like muscle flexing.  But what we've learned is the U.S. is incredibly dependent on China. So how do you actually deliver on all the things you are laying out here?

ANTONY BLINKEN : Well, first, when it comes to the deployment of our naval forces, that was a decision made actually by the Obama Biden administration when we did the so-called rebalance to Asia, where some called it the pivot. We looked at where our interests going forward were most were most significant, and we looked to see whether our resources matched those interests. We decided they didn't, that we were under-resourced in terms of our focus and little resources in Asia. And we made a significant change. And part of that change involved redeploying naval assets so that 60 percent of our Navy is in the Asia Pacific region. That's something it was decided by the Obama administration. But look, here's the challenge. The United States and China are competitors. And there is nothing wrong with competition. And in fact, it can be a very good thing, provided you've done a few things that we haven't seen in the last few years. One is that you invest in your own people to make sure that they can compete effectively. The second is that you work with like minded countries to make sure that the rules of the game are fair because competition is only good if it is basically fair. And there, too, we've abandoned that effort. We are about 25 percent of the world's GDP in the United States. When we're working together with other democracies in Asia and in Europe, we're 50 to 60 percent of the world's GDP. So when China is engaged in practices that are unfair and we want those to change, it's a lot harder for them to ignore 60 percent of the world's GDP than it is to ignore a quarter up. So there is real leverage. And again, this is not about beating up on China. This is about insisting that China live up to its responsibilities as one of the leading international actors. And I think doing that from a position of strength, we're going to be much more effective. And secondly, it also creates opportunities, hopefully, for some cooperation. Think of some of the big ticket items that we have to face as countries. Disease that we're living through right now. Climate change, the spread of weapons of mass destruction. None of those can really effectively be dealt with by any one country acting alone and even the United States can't handle them alone. China needs to be part of the game on that. And I would hope that they would be. But we have to engage them from. We have to engage Beijing from a position of confidence and strength. That's something we've lost in the last few years. And I think we come back to it under a by the demonstration.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know we're going to have some questions from people listening and watching online. In a moment. So please send those in. But before I get to that. We'll have the world as a portfolio and a lot of challenges to deal with on day one. One of the most pressing things would also be how to handle Iran. You were part of those negotiations during the Obama Biden administration. You've said that if Iran came back into compliance with the 2015 deal, that the US would in turn come back into compliance. When you say that. Are you saying U.S. sanctions will remain in place until Iran agrees to new terms as well?

ANTONY BLINKEN : So first, let's take one quick step back and look at what's happened over the last couple of years. On its own terms, the Trump administration's approach to Iran has been an abject failure in pulling out of the deal. President Trump said it would force the Iranians to come back to the table to negotiate a quote unquote, better deal. That hasn't happened. Similarly, in exerting what they called maximum pressure, the administration insisted that this would curb Iran's activities, malevolent activities in the region. Provocative actions. And that hasn't occurred to the contrary. What many of us predicted at the time has happened, which is we've seen a spiraling up, not a spiraling down intentions. Iran has now restarted some of the dangerous aspects of its nuclear program that the nuclear deal stopped dead in their tracks. And unfortunately, it's taken a series of provocative actions endangering our own forces in the Middle East, in Iraq and Syria, as well as our citizens. And all of that has happened at the same time that we managed to alienate ourselves from our closest allies. We disagree fundamentally with the approach the administration took on Iran. So this is just not working on its own terms. If Iran comes back into compliance with the deal, then yes, Joe Biden said we would do the same thing, but we would use that as a platform to try to build a stronger and longer deal working with our partners.

And I think we'd have a decent chance of doing that because our partners would be with us, not alienated from us. And at the same time, much more likely to join us in trying to curb other actions by Iran that we find objectionable.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So are you saying U.S. sanctions would remain on in whole or in part until you get those new terms?

ANTONY BLINKEN : Well, most of the sanctions, even under the under the agreement were remained in place. It was the international sanctions that sanctions by other countries that went away. We still have significant, even under the deal, significant restrictions on what Americans, American companies, etc., could or could not do with Iran. So and all of that would indeed stay in place. But we were clearly in a much better place under the agreement than we are without it.

It's not a panacea. It doesn't solve every problem by design. It was meant to solve one problem, which was the one that was most acute for us, which was Iran's pursuit of the capacity to build on very short order a nuclear weapon. There are lots of other things that we have challenges with, but we'd be in a better place to deal with them if the deal was back on the table.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to get to some of the viewer questions back on Asia for a moment. This is from Jessica WNY of TV B.S. She asks, Secretary Pompeo sent out a congratulatory statement to the president of Taiwan. It was unprecedented. Is U.S. Taiwan cooperation the new normal?
 
ANTONY BLINKEN : Well, we have. It's interesting, I mean, I wasn't I wasn't aware that that was really unprecedented. Certainly, maybe, coming from the secretary of state it was, but certainly there's been in the past congratulatory messages sent. One of the, I think, very unfortunate things happening now is Taiwan being pushed aside in the WHO. That's a huge mistake, both as a political matter, but also as a practical matter, because Taiwan has had some significant success in dealing with covid-19 and its own expertise and its own experience would be incredibly valuable to the world right now. So that's unfortunate. I hope we're doing everything we can to make sure that's engaged.

But of course, it's kind of hard for us to do that when we ourselves are pulled out of the WHO effectively in terms of cutting the budget. So that is I'm saying we have a strong interest in making sure that Taiwan can be engaged in international organizations, that its own experience and expertise and a whole host of areas can benefit the world. But I think one of the successes, actually, of the relationship between the United States and China over many years, many administrations, Republican and Democrat, has been how we have dealt with the challenge posed by the relationship between China and Taiwan. That's actually been the way it's been handled. Until recently, it's been a source of stability, not instability. And it's actually benefited Beijing and I think benefited Taiwan. I hope we can get that back, get that balance back as we move forward.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So a phone call between Joe Biden and the president of Taiwan, you might be open to?

ANTONY BLINKEN : Well, let's see what's happening in January.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is a question from the ambassador of Poland to the US. Do you support the idea of revising arms control treaties that like the new start or leaving the Open Skies treaty?

ANTONY BLINKEN : So I think we should extend new start and we should certainly make that a major effort and indeed based on the calendar and when it when it lapses, that would actually be an early issue for the administration to deal with. And I'm very much for staying engaged in open skies, not not pulling out of it. None of these agreements are perfect. They all have things that could be could always be better. But, you know, it's always important, I think, to say, as the vice president has said many times, don't compare it to the almighty, compare many the alternative, and we manifestly better off with these agreements than we are without them. So we should work to preserve them and then we should work to strengthen them as appropriate. One of things, Margaret, that I worry about is that. You know, there are a lot of tales that could wag the Cobra dog. And we're only beginning to see them. There is a huge brewing crisis in emerging markets as they're taking tremendous hits, capital and investment flight from these countries. That's going to be very difficult to deal with. And a debt and potentially a debt crisis as a lot of debt becomes, do half of it to governments, half of it to private institutions. That has to be dealt with.

But there are other things that are happening, too. We've seen a resurgence of DAESH in parts of Iraq and Syria. That could be a real problem. And to bring the circle full circle. You know, the proliferation of weapons that are deep concern to all of us. No one would pay much attention to that. And we have to make sure that even as we're dealing with COVID, it we don't take our eyes off these other balls that could have a way of bouncing in very bad directions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is a question from a consultant at Deloitte, Rima Zaytuna. She asks, Can you please summarize Vice President Biden's policy toward Syria and how this compares to Presidents Obama and Trump?

ANTONY BLINKEN : So, look, this is a little bit personal to me and any at any of us, and I start with myself who had any responsibility for our Syria policy. In the last administration has to acknowledge that we failed not for want of trying, but we failed. We failed to prevent a horrific loss of life. We failed to prevent massive displacement of people internally in Syria and, of course, externally as refugees. And it's something that I will take with me for the rest of my days. It's something that I feel very strongly. So, you know, what happened, unfortunately, since then is that a horrific situation was made arguably even worse. And to the extent the United States had any remaining leverage in Syria to try to effectuate some more positive outcome. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has more or less turned that up to pulling out entirely in Syria has taken away significant leverage.
[00:36:09] We have some remaining forces, which I'll come to in a second. In northeastern Syria, that's important. Abandoning our partners in the Syrian democratic forces, including the Kurds. That was a huge mistake and something that we'll pay for. So going forward, I don't want to exaggerate this because it's it's very challenging. But again, our leverage is vastly even less than it was. But I think we do have points of leverage to try to effectuate some more positive developments. We still have a small number of special forces in northern eastern Syria. They happen to be near where a very valuable resources are located. They shouldn't be there for the oil. As President Trump would have it, but they happen to be there adjacent to it. That's a point of leverage because the Syrian government would love to have dominion over those resources. We should not give that up for free. Similarly, we have a greater capacity than any country on Earth to mobilize others to help in Syria's rebuilding and reconstruction at the right time. We should make sure that if we're going to play that role, we get something for it on behalf of the Syrian people. So, for example, if Idlib is still under siege, that needs to end. If humanitarian assistance is not getting through it, it needs to. And we should also use what leverage we have to insist that there be some kind of political transition that reflects the desires of the Syrian people.
Right now, what diplomatic process exists? The U.S. is AWOL, we're not in it. The Russians are in it. The Turks are in it. The Iranians are in it. We're not. I can tell you this. I can't guarantee success. I can guarantee that in a Biden administration, we'd at least show up.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does that mean that there is no way a Biden administration would allow for normalizations with the Assad regime, as some countries in the region are already doing?

ANTONY BLINKEN : It is virtually impossible for me to imagine that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I have a few more here I want to make sure, though, that we get to Afghanistan as well. I spoke to the candidate, the former vice president, in February and asked him at the time whether the deal the Trump administration had negotiated with the Taliban was a good one, in his view, given that the Obama administration had also tried and not been able to get there. He said it is too early to tell it that time and that eighty six hundred troops, he wasn't sure whether it was the right number or not this many months later. Is that the right number of troops and is it a good deal?

ANTONY BLINKEN : So, Margaret, first, look, I applaud the diplomacy, and I think Zal Khalilzad has done a terrific job with other professionals and trying to move the diplomatic process forward. And at the end of the day, the only way effectively out of Afghanistan in a way that preserves some possibility of it not descending into into utter chaos is through a diplomatic resolution. So that's a that's a good thing. I think it's been unfortunately made more even more chaotic than it needed to be by some of the things that President Trump did in the midst of that diplomacy, including canceling this meeting at Camp David at the very last minute, which set things back arguably by six or nine or 10 months. But it's a credit where it's due. I think the diplomacy has been important and and I applaud it. It's vastly complicated, though, because on the one hand, we have an agreement between the United States and the Taliban. But that's only a precursor to the agreement between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan to negotiate, negotiate in good faith and try and land something that is sustainable. That's really the hard part. And that, of course, has been hampered by the fact that until just this week, the results of the election results had not been resolved. And actually forming a government that was challenging, it had been hampered to some extent by the perception, I think, in among the government in Afghanistan that we had negotiated certain things with the Taliban without adequately bringing them in. I don't know enough to know whether that's accurate. And it's challenged because some of the terms that were agreed, including prisoner exchanges, are usually controversial. Understandably. Having said all that, I think from Vice President Biden's perspective, the thing to really look for is. Whatever emerges, if this go if the diplomacy goes forward, do we, the United States, retain enough of a capacity to deal with any possible resurgence of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan or from the region? We need to be able to do that in order to protect our own interests going forward. So that's what he would be looking for. We would be looking for. But again, I think the diplomacy is a good thing. And that's something we should continue to support.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Another question from one of our listeners on back in Asia. I'll read you the question in total, but the gist of it is, will the Biden administration change the Obama policy on the South China Sea? This is from the ambassador of the Philippines to the US. And it starts the Obama administration clearly stated the US does not get involved in territorial disputes. Today, China turn those reefs into military bases, declaring they own most, if not all, of the South China Sea with the controversial nine dash line claim. Well, the Biden administration changed the Obama policy on the South China Sea.

ANTONY BLINKEN : Well, I disagree with the premise of the question to the contrary. We were deeply involved in working to uphold international law when it came to freedom of navigation, including in the South China Sea. We didn't recognize very explicitly the nine dash line. We engaged the Chinese constantly on doing, making sure that they were living up to their obligations under international law. And indeed, one of the interesting achievements and it was kind of ironic is under the Law of the Sea Treaty, there was a case that the Philippines took against China that it won the already was. We're, of course, not a party, even though we should be to the law of the sea. The Chinese are didn't like the result. That was a great legal basis for asserting the Philippines rights, unfortunately. The then new government in the Philippines decided not to take advantage of the victory it'd won in court. I can tell you this. This is about making sure that every country in the region, including China, follows international law, lives up to its obligations and preserves freedom of navigation. When the government in Beijing declared unilaterally a so-called air defense identification zone in international skies. Vice President Biden went to China, saw Xi Jinping, told him in a very calm but direct way. We are not going to respect the air defense identification zone that unilaterally declared we we we don't recognize it and we will fly our bombers through it, which is exactly what we did. The vice president's been a strong proponent of so-called freedom of navigation operations. Just to again underscore the point that our presence in the Asia-Pacific as a as a Pacific power is to make sure, among other things, that people products as well as ideas in a different space can continue to flow freely. And we would make that for sure. A foundational aspect of our of our policy in the area.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Does that mean you'd get more involved in territorial disputes?

ANTONY BLINKEN : Well, more or less insights. I certainly think we'd be more involved in the present administration is. But again, from a perspective of insisting on upholding international law and resolving what disputes there are diplomatically in accordance with law.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Immigration is another question we just got. It's in the crosshairs during this health crisis in particular. DACA is before the Supreme Court and for some, the phrase China virus masks a broader xenophobia. What do we need to do to recalibrate our policies and posture on immigration? This is from Ben Chang of Princeton University.

ANTONY BLINKEN : Thanks. Greetings to Ben. Here's here's one thing I hope. At the end of the day, what we're living through is in so many manifestations every single day, a human story. And what touches us as we see these images of doctors and nurses putting their own lives on the line to try to save others as we see people who are going to work every single day, when most of us are not able to to make sure that there's food on our table, that it gets transported across the country, that the stores are stocked and there are people in the stores to help make sure that the food and medicine and other things we need are supplied. These are profoundly human stories. And what's interesting about these human stories, Margaret, is that immigrants are playing a disproportionate role in keeping our country going at its time of greatest need. And they're the ones who are more endangered, relatively speaking, proportionate to their to their place in our country than any other group. And I hope that maybe we reflect on that when we get through this crisis. We are a nation of immigrants. We're a nation of laws. And we can and should be both at the same time. But when I look at the entire spectrum of activity, even before this crisis starting at one end, who is actually planting our crops? Who's cultivating who is nursing the underserved in communities across the country all the way to who happens to be the ones who are creating these great companies in places like Silicon Valley that are doing so well and making real changes and differences in people's lives? Well, immigrants, again, play a disproportionate role. So I think we have to recognize that fact, but do it in a way that's consistent with our laws. The dreamers, that is an abomination that we would deport girls and boys, young men and woman born in the United States who know nothing else, who are extraordinary contributors to our common country. And I can tell you for sure that if that's not resolved by the time of the election and there's no vote by the administration, we would make sure that gets resolved.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And that means what exactly?

ANTONY BLINKEN: That makes sure that means making sure that the drivers stay in the United States. Guaranteed citizenship. And again, the vice president, I should mention, has said that one of the first things he would do as president is to reverse some of the most egregious practices of this administration, including separating families. We've seen a new chapter in that today, having children in cages, using ISIS, a weapon to descend upon people's places of worship and schools and places of work. So the people are basically living in terror on a regular basis. That's all about leadership. That's about the instructions you give. And that can change and would change. On day one. And finally, we need comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 or 12 million undocumented. Again, with rules, with laws. But we need to move forward on that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: On the China portion of this, though, I mean, one of the very few issues on which there is bipartisan support, even before this virus was getting tough on China. Whatever that means, you have a negative view among many Americans of China right now. Just looking at a Pew poll from from March. And when you listen to both candidates, Trump and Biden, the rhetoric is very strong on China. As I said, Joe Biden called Xi Jinping a thug. How do you campaign like that without sparking these concerns that the language that's being used is so strong that it could feed into a xenophobia?

ANTONY BLINKEN: Well, to some extent, Margaret, this is not new. This tends to happen in our elections. Go back to 1992. And then-Governor Clinton was criticizing the incumbent president for raising a glass with the so-called "Butchers of Beijing." This was an opportunity. So this is a actually, if somewhat constant refrain in our election rhetoric does get heated. And, of course, the fact that not only is it a constant refrain, but now we have this crisis that's unlike any we've lived through and the virus originated in China. It's hard to see some of this not happening. However. That being said, some of what we're seeing, unfortunately, is in the realm of the xenophobic and the administration. Well before the COVID crisis and in my judgment, in a very deeply unfortunate track record of xenophobia, including, for example, the so-called Muslim ban, including an overall immigration policy that was really grounded in a very xenophobic view of the world. And that's only going to get amplified in this campaign. I think, you know, when it comes to China, again, we must insist that China live up to its responsibilities, as Joe Biden was calling for. Way back in January when President Trump was doing just the opposite. But it's one thing to say that they need to live up to their responsibilities. It's another thing, too, as the Trump administration did, make sure that a meeting among our closest partners ends in failure because we insist on calling it the Wuhan virus or the Chinese virus. That is simply wrong and totally counterproductive to actually doing things that would better protect us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Sanders, former competitor of Joe Biden, of course, in this race, has repeatedly used the term racist to talk about the current Israeli government with a Biden administration view, Israeli annexation of the West Bank, Palestinian West Bank in whole or in part, as Bibi Netanyahu has talked about, doing a violation of international law. And what would you do in January at the beginning of a Biden administration about it?

ANTONY BLINKEN : So the vice president has pronounced himself multiple times during this campaign on annexation. He's made clear his his opposition to it. And Margaret, the reason is this. He believes that the only way to secure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state and also to make sure that the Palestinian aspirations for a state are fulfilled is through a two state solution and any unilateral action by either side. That makes that a very difficult prospect, even more difficult. He's opposed to annexation is exactly one of those unilateral actions that makes the prospect of getting the two states vastly more complicated. So he's been clear, his opposition. He would say he's opposed to it as a candidate and he would oppose it as president. I don't want to get ahead of the conversation, though, and speculate about what would happen in a nearby demonstration. So much can happen between now and then. We don't know what the environment's going to be. We don't know what the different facts on the ground to be. And, of course, the Israeli government has not actually made a decision yet whether to move forward. So let's see what the government does. My my hope is that to the extent they're thinking about doing this, that they rethink it. Two hundred and twenty leading former Israeli security and defense officials and intelligence leaders, military leaders came out against annexation. Just a couple of weeks ago. So these are not, you know, soft types from an up from an Ivy Tower. These are the folks who are responsible for Israel's security for years and years and years. And they believe it would be bad for Israel security going forward. And I think that's that's also where we are.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And so you would be open to suspending or putting a hold on some form of the billions in USA provided to Israel.


ANTONY BLINKEN : Now, let me be clear about one thing, because the vice president can clear about it himself. He would not tie our military assistance to Israel to any political decisions that it makes. Israel's security is challenged on a daily basis. They face existential threats every single day. And he's made clear that he would not tie our military assistance to this. So that's the one thing he's he's he's explicitly ruled out. Now, that's probably the greatest point of leverage. Well, again, it's in our interest that Israel have the means to secure itself. And that's not something he would touch.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And I think we have time for about one more question. This is from Adva, Solving our debt tax. You spoke about the importance of a global response to covered 19. What would a Biden presidency mean for foreign aid? What would be the priorities? The budget and the role of USAID and a Biden and a station?

ANTONY BLINKEN : Well, I think we bring AIG back to the center of our of our foreign policy. The emphasis would be on diplomacy, on democracy and on development. And, you know, the resources that we dedicate to this traditionally are minuscule relative to our overall budget. And so that's something we'd have to look at very carefully and see how we can do more and how we can do more, do it more effectively, because at the end of the day, it's not just a question of how much you spend or how little you spend. It's really how you spend it to make sure that you're actually getting results and being effective. There are some extraordinary achievements in the history of this kind of work. I think, for example, of the work that the Bush administration did on HIV AIDS, PEPFAR is one of the single great achievements of American foreign policy the last 20 years, saving millions and millions of lives. So we know what can work, what can be effective if we if we're smart about it. But if we walk away from it, if we say that this should not be part of our of our arsenal, then we know for sure nothing's going to happen. So I'd like to see a revitalization. I'd also like to see us working ever more closely with other countries on some of these programs. We can we can be even more effective when we partner with them. And we need some international mechanisms to make that work more effectively or the ones that exist need themselves to work more effectively. Which brings us back to the WTO is one example. But even as we rightly look for change and reform, and even as we rightly criticize institutions and organizations for not doing what they need to do at certain moments, again, let's make sure that we're thinking about if they weren't there at all, what would happen. I think the burden on us would actually be much greater because we'd feel obligated either to step in all alone to try to deal with some of these problems at far greater cost. Or we would continue to stand back. Things would blow up in massive ways that we will not remain immune from. And if, for example, you're not pursuing an effective development agenda, if you're not pursuing an effective climate change agenda, you're going to see conflicts grow both in number and in intensity. You're going to see mass migrations of people. You're going to see more and more fights over scarce resources. You're going to see diseases spreading ever more easily. None of that. Are we immune to it? So it's just in our in our basic self interest to figure out ways to do this and to do it more effectively.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Even with the tremendous amount of spending that is going to have to happen to deal with this crisis, you think keeping foreign aid a priority will continue and that there'll be support for it?

ANTONY BLINKEN : I think. I think yes. And I think that there should be, of course, given everything that's happened. Budgets are going to be usually stretched. We're gonna have to be looking at everything. Everything will be on the table. But in the in the category, Margaret, of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Gosh, when it comes to something like this disease, let me give you one last example. When I was working for then Senator Biden in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he wrote a bill way back in 2003, 2004 called the Global Pathogen Protection Act because he had seen. Way back then that one of the biggest dangers we faced was a weak link in the chain where a virus either naturally made or even manmade, might emerge because the country didn't have the capacity to adequately safeguard its facilities or to detect something emerging in time. And to put in place a system to deal with that. And we went at that for two or three years. We finally got it passed by the Senate. And then, unfortunately, our Republican friends in the House didn't pass it. Can I say that would have prevented Cauvin 19? Who knows? I can tell you that, that when you have more of those tools, it's much more likely that you'll stop something before it starts.