Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 19, 2023
QUESTION: Joining me now is U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Ambassador, thank you so much for coming on.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. Delighted to be here.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken met with China’s Foreign Minister yesterday, as you well know, at the Munich Security Conference in the first face-to-face meeting between the two countries since the spy balloon incursion. Blinken said China did not apologize for violating U.S. airspace. Was that a disappointment?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t characterize what the Chinese said or how they said it. But I know what Secretary Blinken said to the Chinese, and it was very clear that what the Chinese did with these balloons was totally unacceptable. It was an extraordinary effort against our sovereignty, and the President made that clear, and that’s why we took that balloon down when we did. And China can’t continue to do that. He made that clear. China has these balloons on five continents across about 40 countries. And we made clear both to China, but also exposed to the world, what China is doing.
QUESTION: Do you think it will change anything?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It should. It should, and it has to, because what they did was totally unacceptable. And it did have an impact on our relationship. But we know we have to continue communications – diplomatic communications – with the Chinese so that we can ensure that they understand what our red lines are and not make the mistake of crossing them.
QUESTION: The U.S. is also warning, we heard from officials, that China is considering providing, “lethal aid to Russia for use against Ukraine.” But publicly, at least, China has kept its distance from Russia, urging for the war to end and warning against using nuclear weapons. We just heard that from the Foreign Minister Wang Yi, so should we not believe China when it says it wants peace in Ukraine?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We all want peace in Ukraine, and our message to China is, China should not do anything that will provide lethal support to the Russians to assist them in their brutal attacks on the Ukrainian people. And we’ve made that message clear through the President, but also Secretary Blinken made that message clear in his conversations with the Chinese leader yesterday.
QUESTION: Right, but should we not believe the Chinese when they say they want peace with Ukraine? We just heard that from the foreign minister yesterday. And yet, U.S. intelligence is indicating, according to officials, that they want to give lethal aid to Ukraine. So what should Americans believe?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, we welcome the Chinese announcement that they want peace because that’s what we always want to pursue in situations like this. But we also have to be clear that if there are any thoughts and efforts by the Chinese and others to provide lethal support to the Russians and their brutal attack against Ukraine, that that is unacceptable. Again, that would be a red line.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken warned of “serious consequences” if China gives lethal aid to Russia. What specifically would those consequences be?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Again, I think he’s – the Secretary spoke very clearly about this. We’re not going to advance and announce what we’re planning to do. But we made clear to the Chinese that there will be consequences should they make that unfortunate decision.
QUESTION: I am going to ask you about something else relating to China. CIA director Bill Burns said yesterday that the U.S. sees indications that China is instructing its military to be ready for an invasion of Taiwan. Senator Marco Rubio said, “I don’t think we’ll reach the end of this decade without an intervention on Taiwan.”
Do you expect China to invade Taiwan by 2030? Or would the U.S. step in to defend Taiwan, if so?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: This is why we are continuing to have diplomatic conversations with the Chinese. We’re continuing our efforts to communicate with the Chinese despite what they did with the balloons recently so that we have clear lines of communications with them to avoid such a thing happening. But if such a such an event happens, we’re very clearly prepared for that.
QUESTION: One of your predecessors, Nikki Haley, just launched her 2024 bid for president. Take a listen to what she had to say about the U.S. relationship with China.
NIKKI HALEY: In the America I see, communist China won’t just lose. Like the Soviet Union before it, communist China will end up on the ash heap of history.
QUESTION: Is that your posture toward China, too?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The President has said we see China as the adversary it is. We are prepared to compete with the Chinese, and we are prepared when necessary to confront the Chinese, and that’s what we’re doing, and that’s what we will continue to do to ensure that our national interests are always at the forefront.
QUESTION: We were just talking about China and how U.S. officials are concerned that it will give lethal aid to Russia in the fight against Ukraine. Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine. The U.S. has formally determined that Russia is guilty of crimes against humanity, including execution-style killings, torture, rape, and forced deportations. Secretary Blinken said, “Putin has been trying from day one to erase Ukraine’s identity.”
Doesn’t all of that fit the textbook definition of genocide according to the UN Convention?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re looking at all of the legal tools that we have available to us to call out and hold Russia accountable for what they are doing in Ukraine. We declared from day one that they were committing war crimes. We’ve announced that they’re committing crimes against humanity, and we’re looking at the facts on the ground.
I was in Ukraine in earlier this last – late last year in November. I had an opportunity to visit a forensic lab that we’re supporting in helping them to gather the evidence that they will need and we will need to hold the Russians accountable. And so we’re looking at all the tools that are available to us, as well as to the international community and to the Ukrainians themselves, who can use their legal system and their justice system to hold Russians accountable.
QUESTION: We should note it’s been ten months since President Biden called Russia’s actions genocide, but clearly, legally, his administration is not there yet. But they are saying that these are crimes against humanity.
There is also growing bipartisan pressure from Capitol Hill for President Biden to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. Meanwhile, according to Politico, the top U.S. general in Europe told lawmakers that giving Ukraine F-16s could help them win the war. Has the administration ruled out giving Ukraine those jets?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re working very closely and directly with the Ukrainians on identifying what their needs are and when they need them. And we’re also working to ensure that they have the training and the capacity to use whatever weapons systems we provide for them. So this discussion is continuing, but let me be clear, we are there to support the Ukrainians. We have never ever wavered in our support for the Ukrainians, and President Biden has said we will be there as long as they need us.
QUESTION: So just to be clear, it hasn’t been ruled out to send F-16s to Ukraine?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re still having discussions on the ground with the Ukrainians. And again, we have to ensure, and I think Secretary Blinken said this as well, that they have the training necessary and the capacity to use weapon systems that we provide to them. It doesn’t help them if we provide weapon systems that they are not able to use and they don’t have the capacity to maintain. So the discussions will continue over the course of the next few weeks and months as we determine how best to support them.
QUESTION: Okay, UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, I know how busy you are. Thank you for your time this morning
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you so much. It was great to be here.