QUESTION: This is an India Today world exclusive. The most prominent voice from the G20 ministerial is joining us here on India Today today. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, many thanks for joining us and doing this.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you. Thank you.
QUESTION: The G20 presidency has begun at a tumultuous time. There are so many differences. You’ve been speaking about it. We’ve heard various leaders in various press – at various press conferences address the same issue. But the bigger question over here is that despite all the conversations and heated exchanges that we’ve been hearing about, there still is no consensus on the Russia-Ukraine war, no consensus on the communique.
Now, in that, I’d like to know how and why has the West failed in isolating Russia. Why do I say that? Because Russia is still in the room, and in fact, you actually met the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So first, I think it’s very clear in a variety of ways that Russia is isolated in terms of its aggression against Ukraine. Go back a couple weeks ago – 141 countries, three quarters of the United Nations, stood up in the General Assembly and voted for a resolution condemning Russia’s aggression and calling for a just and durable peace in Ukraine. Here at the G20, the foreign ministers’ meeting, if you look at the chair statement that was put out by India, it reflects on the part of 18 of the 20 countries – that is, every country except for Russia and China – the very language that was used by the leaders in the Bali meetings just a few months ago in terms of what Russia is doing in Ukraine.
So I think world opinion is very, very clear on this, and in the meetings today – and I think it’s also fair to say that a number of countries again called on Russia to end its aggression. And this is a concern not just for Ukraine, not just for countries in Europe; it’s a concern for the entire world because the consequences of Russia’s aggression are being felt around the world. People are feeling it in terms of higher energy prices, higher food prices, and countries are feeling it in a different way because there’s been an assault not just on Ukraine but on the principles at the heart of the United Nations Charter, principles that are necessary for trying to keep the peace around the world, like: one country can’t simply go and try and take over another, erase its borders, erase its identity. So I think it’s very clear where the world is on this, and that was reflected here again in New Delhi.
QUESTION: But the aggression continues and there is no stopping them. G20 has not been able to; U.S. sanctions have not been able to. So when we talk about isolation, we’re talking about absolute isolation of a country that is an aggressor, and that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case here.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think if you look at what’s actually happened, the Ukrainian people – with a lot of support from countries around the world – have actually stopped what Russia was trying to do. Russia was trying to erase Ukraine from the map, to absorb it into Russia, to make it so that it didn’t exist anymore. That has failed, and it’s failed because the Ukrainian people stood up and because so much of the world came to help Ukraine in defending itself.
Since then, since that initial attempt to eliminate Ukraine as an independent country failed, Russia has been pushed back in Ukraine to the east and to the south. The Ukrainians have taken back more than 50 percent of the territory that Russia seized from it early on in the aggression.
Unfortunately, tragically, Russia is persisting. It’s true it hasn’t stopped. But as it’s doing that, it is suffering tremendously. President Putin has inflicted terrible damage not only on Ukraine but on his own country. Public accounts say that Russia has suffered 200,000 casualties, killed and wounded, in Ukraine, and he keeps throwing bodies into this war, a war of his own making. More than a million Russians have left the country.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: They tend to be the most educated and most sophisticated in building a modern economy. A thousand companies from around the world have left Russia. They’re not doing business there because the reputational cost of doing business has gotten to be too great.
So all of those things, as well as the sanctions and export controls, are having an increasingly heavy weight on Russia. But ultimately, yes, the objective is to get it to stop the aggression and to restore Ukraine’s full sovereignty. And that requires that we continue to support Ukraine and continue to exert pressure on Russia.
QUESTION: And it will take time. But you’re here in New Delhi, and concerns of New Delhi and India are a little different. We’re talking about China here. Do you think, because of this war, the focus has shifted from China and Chinese aggression, whether it is against Taiwan, India, or for that matter, now we see Chinese spy balloons in American airspace? Is that a concern? How do you see America counter China? And how do you see America continue being a net security provider for the world?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: On the contrary, I’m seeing two things. First, as I mentioned, even as so many countries are working to support Ukraine, they’re also working together, including here at the G20, to address global problems of concern to people around the world, and I mentioned a few of them, from food insecurity and energy insecurity to climate to global health, including in the wake of COVID, to make sure that that doesn’t happen again.
At the same time, I actually think that what Russia has done in Ukraine has awakened other parts of the world to concerns about other would-be aggressors. And the very reason that so many countries beyond Europe are standing up against Russia’s aggression is because they know that if we let that aggression stand with impunity, then other would-be aggressors might say, well, if Russia can get away with it, so can we, so can I. And that, I think, is a powerful motivator.
At the same time, tomorrow we’ll be meeting with our partners in the Quad – Australia, Japan, and India – and I’m very much looking forward to that because we’ve done a lot of work to focus on issues of common concern to us in the Indo-Pacific. And the United States is deeply engaged throughout the Indo-Pacific with a shared goal that we have with India, with Japan, with Australia, but also with most of the countries in the region, and that is to make sure that we maintain a free, open, prosperous Indo-Pacific. And there are so many things that we’re doing together to ensure that we’re able to do that.
QUESTION: Talking about another concern that India has, there have – there has been a lot of criticism when it comes to the Indian Government with regards to certain American businessmen and short sellers who have come out with reports that have not done – that have not gone down well with the government, particularly massive losses to one of India’s top industrialists, Gautam Adani; and then George Soros coming out and saying that the Hindenburg report will lead to a democratic revival in India. Was this matter discussed with your Indian counterpart Dr. Jaishankar? If so, what was your response? If not, could you weigh in on the matter?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It wasn’t discussed and, I think, for a very good reason. These are private matters concerning private companies, private citizens, and they don’t affect the relationship between the United States and India – the government to government and the work we’re doing both directly bilaterally, but also here at the G20 in support of India’s leadership. That’s exactly what we focused on today, the work that we’ve been doing – and it’s been quite extraordinary – in deepening and strengthening the strategic partnership between India and the United States. I think it’s reaching unprecedented levels, and we look forward to demonstrating that further when Prime Minister Modi visits Washington in the coming time.
And at the same time, today the focus was intensely on the very ambitious agenda that India has for the G20 and the support the United States is providing for that agenda.
QUESTION: There’s another very important aspect of – in the Indo-U.S. cooperation, which is health, the health sector, COVID-19. But the prospects are grim when it comes to reports that are emerging now. The U.S. Energy Department has concluded that COVID pandemic most likely arose from a laboratory leak. In that, you’ve had many agencies report to you, send out reports. What – can you conclusively say that Beijing indeed is indulging in biological warfare?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: There – some very distinct things here that it’s important to be clear on. First, President Biden was determined from day one to get to the bottom of the origins of COVID-19 – why it happened, how it happened – in order to enable us to make sure, to the greatest extent possible, that it doesn’t happen again. And in doing that, he asked all of our intelligence agencies to focus their resources and their attention on this question. And what we have now after extensive study is some of our agencies and departments believing that COVID originated from a lab leak in Wuhan, others believing it’s more likely that it originated at a animal market also in Wuhan, none of the agencies being able to say conclusively that it was one or the other. And so the bottom line is we don’t know conclusively. But, of course, the possibility that it originated in a lab is very clear and very real. And that’s what some agencies think is more likely, again, not conclusively.
But that’s also separate from the question of whether this had anything to do with a biological weapon and anything to do with intentional actions by a country to develop it, use it, release it. And the – none of the agencies, to my knowledge, have found that.
QUESTION: But do you see biological warfare as a threat coming from China separately?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have real concerns about the potential development and use of bioweapons in various places around the world. We’ve been working for years to try to ensure that that wouldn’t happen. There’s something called the Biological Weapons Convention that we’re a strong adherent to, and at the same time we have programs around the world to help countries that have biological research programs – for medical reasons, for example – to make sure that they are fully safe and secure.
QUESTION: My final question to you. The USCIRF report, under your leadership, has been highly critical of India when it comes to certain categories, whether it’s freedom of speech or treatment of minorities. Is that an area that was covered in your bilateral meetings with Dr. Jaishankar? And if so, again, what was India’s response to it?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have an ongoing dialogue on both of our democracies and human rights, because, as the world’s two largest democracies, it’s central to who we are. It’s central to our identity. And in our own case, we’ve – from day one of our own democracy, our founding fathers set as an objective to try to form a more perfect union, which is an acknowledgment that we’re not perfect, we never will be, but it’s in trying to do ever better on democracy, on human rights, that we make progress. And I think that’s a shared commitment that both of us have. And when questions or issues come up, we discuss them directly, very openly, very freely. And I think we would hold each other to account when there are concerns.
And that’s, I think, typical of many of our conversations and came up today as well. But the point is that we’re engaging on these issues directly, as friends, as partners, and, I believe and hope, working to make sure that both of our societies continue to get stronger when it comes to our democracies and when it comes to human rights.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, thank you so much for joining us here on India Today and for this very candid conversation. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. Very good to be with you.
Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-geeta-mohan-of-india-today/