By Nike Ching
May 23, 2023
Derek Chollet, Counselor of the U.S. Department of State, photographed at the State Department, May 23, 2023.
STATE DEPARTMENT — The United States would not accept preconditions set by the People's Republic of China while pursuing open lines of communication with Beijing, a senior State Department official told VOA on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the official said there is not much indication that China is willing to use its influence over Russia to end its war on Ukraine.
State Department counselor Derek Chollet spoke Tuesday to VOA State Department bureau chief Nike Ching about China and Ukraine ahead of the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference to be held in mid-June when U.S. ambassadors will return to Washington for meetings.
The following excerpts from the interview have been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: What can you tell us about Ukraine's spring counteroffensive since summer is around the corner?
DEREK CHOLLET, COUNSELOR OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE: We have been supplying Ukraine, along with our 50 other coalition partners, with the resources they need to defend themselves and to take back territory. I'm going to let the Ukrainians speak for themselves in terms of the timing of their counteroffensive and what their aims are.
VOA: Which countries are willing to, or have promised to provide Ukraine with F-16s? And what numbers are we looking at?
CHOLLET: We're working through those specifics right now. Our Pentagon colleagues are working closely with Ministries of Defense throughout Europe and elsewhere to talk about the way forward on F-16s. It's got to start with training, because these are planes that are not easy to operate. They require weeks and weeks of training. We're still working through who is actually going to be providing those planes. We've made no decisions on that for ourselves.
I don't think it's going to be a system particularly relevant, because of the timing, to the coming counteroffensive. But nevertheless, when we think about Ukraine's needs for the future, and its ongoing needs to deter and defend itself, these planes are going to be a critical part of a modern Ukrainian military.
VOA: Can you talk about Ukraine's diplomatic push to challenge Russia's influence in the Global South? Because Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is starting his tour to Africa this week.
CHOLLET: Foreign Minister Kuleba and [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy and the entire Ukrainian leadership have been very determined to try to take their case throughout the world, all corners of the world. There're no better people to make the case for Ukraine than the Ukrainian leadership, and so we very much support their efforts. And I know President Zelenskyy had a successful visit to Jeddah and the Arab League Summit. I know they're also engaging with Middle East partners, as well.
VOA: Chinese envoy Li Hui is visiting European Union headquarters in Brussels before heading to Russia, according to media reports. How do you assess China's peacemaking efforts? Does China have the credibility?
CHOLLET: It's a good thing that the Chinese are now talking to the Ukrainians and that an envoy has visited. Quite frankly, I've modest expectations for this effort. I mean, what China can be most helpful in doing is trying to make the case to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and getting Vladimir Putin to stop this war. It's important to note this war could end tomorrow if Vladimir Putin decided to pull his troops out of Ukraine. I see no evidence to suggest that Putin is thinking about that anytime soon.
VOA: To clarify, does the United States see the PRC [People's Republic of China] as having a case with Putin or not?
CHOLLET: Clearly, they have a close relationship with Russia. President Xi [Jinping] and President Putin have met several times, and before this war, they released a very lengthy joint communique talking about a relationship, a partnership with no limits. What we would be asking our PRC friends to do is use whatever influence they have over Russia to get Putin to stop this war.
I haven't seen much to suggest that they're willing to use that influence. And I haven't seen much to suggest that even if they were willing to use the influence, it would work to change Putin's mind. But that's the simple thing we're asking.
VOA: Moving on to the U.S.-China relationship: Was national security adviser Jake Sullivan's recent meeting with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi bad news for Russia?
CHOLLET: Well, I don't want to talk about whether it's bad news for Russia or good news for Russia. It was a very businesslike meeting between our national security adviser and Wang Yi to talk about the U.S.-China relationship, and to speak forthrightly from our side about some of the challenges that we see emanating from the PRC, some of the fundamental differences we have with them. But also, importantly, to talk about the areas for dialogue and cooperation that we continue to hope to be able to achieve with the PRC.
We, again, have some fundamental differences with the PRC, and we're going to stay true to our principles and values and our interests there. But at the same time, we think it's important to have dialogue with the PRC to talk about how we manage those differences, how we put guardrails on this relationship.
VOA: Are Sullivan and Wang going to meet regularly, such as quarterly?
CHOLLET: Well, no, there's no decision at all on a regular meeting. Secretary [Antony] Blinken was just hours from departing for Beijing several months ago until the Chinese irresponsibly and unacceptably flew a surveillance balloon over the United States. So, that's a dialogue that we very much hope to be able to restart at some point. There's no plans for that as of yet. There's no decision on sort of the frequency of the dialogue. What's important is that we are willing to have that dialogue, and that's the case we're making to China.
VOA: Can you tell us about U.S. Ambassador to PRC Nicholas Burns' meetings at the Chiefs of Mission Conference in Washington next month?
CHOLLET: Nick Burns is one of our most accomplished diplomats in modern U.S. history. We very much trust his judgment, and we're thrilled that he's taken on this difficult assignment to return to service to be in Beijing. He's had several meetings in Beijing just in the last week to help talk about ways we're going to try to get this relationship in some place where we have, again, guardrails on it, and we have a floor on, beneath it, to help support it. So, we'll look forward to his firsthand impressions on how that's going.
VOA: Chinese officials have said that there's a need to stabilize a relationship with the United States. But at the same time, they also demand the U.S. to stop strengthening ties with Taiwan, stop putting restrictions on trade, on technology. Are those preconditions?
CHOLLET: There's certainly nothing that we would accept. Let the PRC speak for themselves about what kind of conditions they put on any sort of dialogue with us. We're very clear that we will not diminish our commitment to our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific or anywhere. We will continue to defend our interests and stay true to our values. While doing that, there is space to have a dialogue with the PRC or anyone else.