US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s long-awaited policy address may have rattled some in China, with a narrative aimed at rallying support for American efforts to “shape the strategic environment around Beijing”. And while Chinese observers say there was less confrontational rhetoric in Thursday’s speech, few see any signs of a softening in Washington’s China policy following recent US inroads into the Indo-Pacific region. The speech has been described by some as underwhelming and was not well received in Beijing, where the foreign ministry called it an effort to “contain and suppress China’s development and maintain the US hegemony and power”. Despite Blinken’s “eloquence”, ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said: “In essence, it was spreading false information, exaggerating China’s threats, interfering in China’s internal affairs, and smearing China’s domestic and foreign policies.” Wang also accused the US of forming a “small bloc” with other regional nations to contain China, and again stated that Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet were all internal matters for China. In the 45-minute speech at George Washington University – which covered most of the contentious bilateral issues – Blinken accused China of undermining the international order and “destabilising” the situation across the Taiwan Strait, a word Beijing often uses to attack the US and its allies. “Under President Xi [Jinping], the ruling Chinese Communist Party has become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad,” Blinken said. “We cannot rely on Beijing to change its trajectory. So we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open, inclusive international system.” Despite Washington’s preoccupation with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine , he described China as “the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order – and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do it”. “Even as President [Vladimir] Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order – and that is the one posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Blinken said. He said the US was not seeking to change China’s political system, but would defend international law and institutions that maintain peace and security and make it possible for countries to coexist. “We are not looking for conflict or a new Cold War. To the contrary, we’re determined to avoid both,” he said. Zhu Feng, an expert on international affairs at Nanjing University, said the speech showed the Joe Biden administration had grown more confident in dealing with China. “Its Indo-Pacific strategy has made important strides in turning the situation around China to Washington’s advantage,” he said. “The US has hit China hard knowing exactly how it can hurt China the most [yet] it tries to create an impression that the US feels no need to seek an all-out confrontation.” Blinken’s speech came days after Biden wrapped up his first Asia visit as president, following a summit at the White House with China’s Southeast Asian neighbours early this month. Apart from launching the 13-member Indo-Pacific Economic Framework , Biden tried to firm up military alliances with Japan and South Korea and attended a gathering of the Quad alliance of the US, Japan, Australia and India targeting China. “Blinken also talked about economic and climate change cooperation with China. But it’s a hard sell … because Washington is demanding cooperation after it has taken all the ruthless moves against China,” Zhu said. “That’s precisely the genius of the US strategy … it tries to sell its China approach as a reasonable one that avoids simplistic confrontation, which is not popular among many nations in the region.” Blinken also sought to challenge Beijing’s assertion that Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang are internal affairs that other countries should not interfere in. “That is wrong,” he said, voicing concern over “Beijing’s quashing of freedom in Hong Kong” and its treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet. “We’ll continue to raise these issues and call for change – not to stand against China, but to stand up for peace, security and human dignity.” He reiterated that the US one-China policy had not changed, after Biden on Monday pledged to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack from mainland China. “What has changed is Beijing’s growing coercion,” he said, calling the Chinese military’s almost daily activity near the self-ruled island and Beijing’s repeated threats against Taiwan “deeply destabilising”. Shi Yinhong, a US affairs expert at Renmin University in Beijing, said Washington’s China policy had become “increasingly clear and systematic over the past 16 months”, noting that Blinken had used the words “invest, align and compete” to define it. “Washington apparently felt it was imperative to clearly outline its China strategy against the backdrop of the Ukraine war, which has accelerated the shift in the global balance of power,” Shi said. “But basically it’s old content in a new context.” US looks to China for teamwork on climate change and arms control Huang Jing, director of the Institute of the US and Pacific Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, noted that Blinken had avoided using the word “confrontation” – a departure from the policy of “competition, cooperation and confrontation” with China at the start of Biden’s presidency last year. He said the speech was inconsistent, as Blinken tried to please both the domestic audience ahead of midterm elections with tough talk on China, but also the international audience that does not want to see a superpower rivalry. “It’s essentially mission impossible and underlines the weakness of the Biden White House,” Huang said.