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Tensions Flare During Biden Team's First U.S.-China Meeting; George W. Bush Says, Capitol Riot Made Me Sick to My Stomach; Europe Sees Surge in Coronavirus Cases as Variants Spread. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 19, 2021 - 11:30   ET



JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They wanted to show the American people that he was willing to take on China. Remember, a lot of the attacks that came from Republicans last year were that Joe Biden is going to be soft on China. He's trying to lay down a marker right now in both of these foreign policy cases to say, I'm going to stand up for American interests differently with respect to Russia than with China, but in both cases, a stern posture.

Of course, on vaccinations, he's taking credit for the acceleration in vaccinations that has allowed him to get to 100 million earlier than he said. That was a goal that was set low deliberately so that they could exceed it. Now they are exceeding it. And he's going to tout that success today.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWSROOM: Absolutely. John, thank you very much. We're going to have much more with John was hitting on here and much more on U.S. tensions with Russia and China this real sudden and -- sudden and quick escalation on the global scale.

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: We're bracing now for more tensions when top U.S. and Chinese officials meet again this morning in Anchorage, Alaska. The important face-to-face kicked off yesterday and veered off course. All playing out in front of reporters and cameras, which is extremely rare as these diplomatic visits are so often so highly choreographed. That did not happen when Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan sat down with their Chinese counterparts for the first time since President Biden took office. You could see very quickly the secretary of state was not holding back.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We'll also discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion toward our allies. The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all, and that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now is CNN's Kylie Atwood for more on this. Kylie, can you tell us more of what happened here?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, what you saw there, Kate, were the opening remarks by Secretary of State Tony Blinken. They were about two minutes. They were very direct. He cited the deep concerns that the United States has with actions that China is undertaking. He essentially was previewing what the U.S. officials were going to discuss with Chinese officials.

But the Chinese side didn't take that well. They responded in about a 15-minute response, super aggressively going after the United States, essentially accusing them hypocrisy, pointing out divisions in U.S. society, pointing to the Black Lives Matter protests and calling the U.S. champions of cyber attacks.

And after that happened, it was very clear that Secretary of State Tony Blinken felt like he needed to respond. He turned to the cameras. He told them to stay in the room. And he then said that the United States makes mistakes but it also makes reversals. It recognizes where it takes missteps and it, you know, does so and focuses on those in public in, the public eye.

And then the cameras left the room, and I want to show you what happened when they came back in the room. It's very rare that cameras will be shuffled back and forth but that's what happened. Let's look.


BLINKEN: Have our colleagues return, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I entered this room, I should have reminded the U.S. side of paying attention to its tone in our respective opening remarks.


ATWOOD: As you can see, Chinese officials recognizing what they believe to be the tone of the U.S. officials that they didn't like. They said that they were condoning a ban that they weren't talking to them in a way that they accepted. The Chinese want to give their rebuttal here on camera.

And so this was a very acrimonious opening to the first U.S.-China talks of the Biden administration. Now we should note that after this happened, a U.S. official, a senior administration official said that the talks continued. They were substantive and they were direct. And President Biden is just this morning saying that he is proud of Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Two men quite close. Kylie, thank you. It's not just China. The Biden administration is also facing off in a stunning made public in personal way with Russia. President Biden called Vladimir Putin a killer in an interview earlier this week. Russia responded by raising the specter that Biden is too old for the job.

Joining me now -- it didn't stop there. Joining me now, Washington Post Columnist Josh Rogin, and also author of an important new book called Chaos Under Heaven, Trump, Xi and the Battle for the 21st Century. It's good to see you, my friend.

What do you think of how quickly and suddenly the Biden administration is seeing this escalation with Russia and very clearly now with China?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, there was a lot of hope by the Chinese leadership that they would get a warmer reception from the Biden administration and that this era of confronting China on its human rights violations and lots of other violations would be over, but that's just not the case.

And the Biden team has been very clear that they're going to stand up for American interests but also American values and sort of stand with allies and put the focus on allies and give these countries, our adversaries, China and Russia, the cold shoulder.


So that's a measure of continuity with the last administration that neither the Chinese nor the Russian leadership is going to like, but they're not supposed to like it because we're supposed defending what we believe and not what they're doing.

BOLDUAN: That's one thing, you know, how these diplomatic talks happen behind closed doors. I mean, we hear from sources and officials, anonymous sources that this is happening. But this isn't happening behind closed doors. Just look at what went down with Tony Blinken yesterday in Alaska. This is happening publicly. This is a deliberate choice. What is the Biden administration's strategy here?

ROGIN: Right. You're exactly right. We heard similar messages from Chinese leaders in private but it's very unprecedented for them to do it in public. It shows that China is feeling vulnerable about the globalization of the human rights charges against them and the insistence by countries like the United States to confront them on things like the Uyghur genocide and Hong Kong crackdown, threatening Taiwan, et cetera.

So there are choices to double down and there are choices to lash out. And at least we know how they're going to play it in that is useful information. But the Biden team is not able to do what the Chinese want, right? What the Chinese leadership wants is for us to shut up about their actions and to shut up about their human rights violations. And the Biden team just can't do that.

So it's actually an escalation that is definitely going to get worse before it gets better. And the Biden team is doing what they can do which is basically what they should do, which is to speak clearly, try not to raise the temperature any more than necessary but not cede to the Chinese government's demands that we just ignore all of their atrocities.

BOLDUAN: It's interesting, and you just noted this. And you note this in your book that this is one area -- one of few areas, I would say, of unity in American politics right now, right, views towards China, this approach towards China that was a similar approach from Trump to hear. Do you think China understands that? I mean, you dive into this in your latest column.

ROGIN: Right. And that's not to say that, you know, we're headed for a cold war with China or anything like that. In fact, we should be doing what we can to avoid the conflict that neither side seeks. But at the same time, there is just no doubt that people around the country, voters, Democrats and Republicans, are telling their politicians, their elected lawmakers and the American leadership that they want a tougher China policy, especially since the pandemic.

And we're finding out that Chinese government's actions affect us, our security and our prosperity and our public health, and not just us, countries all over the world. So as China rises, its behavior is becoming a problem for Americans and people in other countries. And, you know, this is the broad effort that we're all engaged in to try to manage that rise while avoiding the conflict.

But it's going to require the Chinese government to realize that they can't just tell the international community to shut up and that they're eventually going to have to respond to the criticisms, hopefully stop the atrocities. And those atrocities shock Americans and it shock people around the world. And that's why you're seeing the reaction from governments around the world that you're seeing now.

BOLDUAN: And they should. It is going to be interesting to watch Tony Blinken lead on this and navigate this relationship with China. Josh, thank you. Congratulations on the book.

ROGIN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next for us, former President Bush in a rare interview describing his reaction on the day of the Capitol insurrection and making clear really just how far away the Republican Party has moved from their former standard-bearer.



BOLDUAN: Former President George W. Bush doing something he rarely does these days, an on-camera interview, and making clear just how far the Republican Party has moved from Bush's brand of conservatism.

He sat down with this interview with the Texas Tribune as part of the virtual version of this year's South by Southwest. It's the first time that we've heard from Bush on camera since the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th. Listen to how Bush described his reaction.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I was sick to my stomach. And then to see our nation's Capitol being stormed by hostile forces. And it really disturbed me to the point where I did put out a statement. And I'm still disturbed when I think about it.


BOLDUAN: CNN's John Harwood is back with me now. John, it's not just Bush's reaction to January 6th that is so strikingly different from many Republicans in Congress were able to muster up, but this divide that is kind of evident in this interview really extended well beyond that.

HARWOOD: It's a fundamental split within the Republican Party. And as you indicated, Kate, President George W. Bush and his family have not exactly hidden how they feel about Donald Trump and his effect on the Republican Party, but he doesn't often say it out loud. He took that opportunity speaking with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune.

And one thing he said is something that you have a very hard time getting Republican members of Congress to agree, which is that Joe Biden was legitimately elected, defeated Donald Trump for the presidency. Take a listen.


REPORTER: Was the election stolen or not?


REPORTER: Did you believe that our own government, in any way, was putting our democracy at risk?


BUSH: No. I think what is putting democracy at risk is the capacity of people to get on the internet and spread all kinds of -- all kinds of stuff. But checks and balances work.


HARWOOD: That's right. And so, here, you have former President George W. Bush, of course, his father had been president before him, long history in American politics, standing up for the American system. And the question is going to be, as more Republicans, if more Republicans speak out the way George W. Bush did in that interview, what effect is it going to have on the party and its future direction?

There's no question that Donald Trump is a heck of a lot more popular within the Republican Party than George W. Bush is. On the other hand, the slice of the Republican Party that believes what George W. Bush said, including many of those suburbanites, affluent suburbanites who voted for him but did not vote for Donald Trump, without those people, the Republican Party cannot win elections.

And exactly how they manage the split between those two groups is going to be a critical element of determining Joe Biden's success as president in the future course of the Republican Party.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. Regardless of any impact from here on out, it's good to hear from the former president.

Coming up for us, Europe getting hit by another wave of the pandemic., the lesson United States should learn from this latest setback.

But, first, today's CNN hero struggled with ADHD and dyslexia as a child, and now, he's running an organization to make sure other children like him don't fall through the cracks of the education system.


DAVID FLINK, CNN HERO: Eye to Eye provides a safe space that's constructed around what's right with kids so they can talk about their experiences.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you get scared during tests or like nervous or no?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have anxiety. I shake a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that happens to me sometimes.

FLINK: People's hearts sing when they're seen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My masterpiece, really cool. I like how you use duct tape as a handle.

FLINK: My moment that I am wishing for is when the problem of stigmatizing kids because they learn differently goes away. I want them to know that their brains are beautiful. I want them feeling like they know how to ask for what they need and they can do it, and that's what we give them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Daniel.


BOLDUAN: For more information, go to We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: Europe is beginning to lock down once again. Leaders are sounding the alarm about a new spike of coronavirus cases. The French prime minister saying that it's becoming abundantly clear they are entering a third wave. Some countries are now seeing new infections jump by more than 40 percent over the previous week. And add to this, Europe is also dealing with the rocky rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is joining me now for more. Fred, Europe is in bad -- badly needs more vaccine supply at the very same time. You've been speaking to another vaccine maker, BioNTech, who is looking to scale up production. What are they telling you?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, they're doing everything they can, Kate, to scale up their production as fast as possible. They've already bought another factory that is going online very soon where vaccine is already being produced and is ready to roll out. So they're doing what they can to roll it out as fast as possible.

At the same time, they also say that they are continuously testing their vaccine against possible coronavirus variants and are already mapping out steps that they would take if there are new dangerous variants coming up. Let's listen to what she had to say.


OZLEM TURECI, CO-FOUNDER AND CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, BIONTECH: From what we know based on the scientific data the current variants, for example, the U.K. variant and the South African variant, we are protected against those with the current version of our vaccine.

However, what we also prepare is -- and this is basically to be prepared for tomorrow in case such a variant of concern would occur.


PLEITGEN: And, Kate, that also means that companies like BioNTech are constantly in touch with regulators to already map out steps beforehand that they would take in case they come upon a variant that their vaccine would not be effective against so they can get that going as fast as possible, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And, Fred, countries are heading into new lockdowns, we're seeing these new surges. What are you hearing about if they think these new restrictions are going to this time?

PLEITGEN: Well, I think right now for Europe, the situation really is very dire. It was very interesting because the German health minister came out today and said, even with the AstraZeneca now available again, he thinks that there's not enough vaccine in Europe to stave off this third wave of the pandemic.

And then you look at France and they're already putting new measures in place. You have measures in 16 regions in France right now, including the capital of Paris, the large city of Nice, you have new measures that will last for four weeks and residents in these areas have to get approval certificates to walk or exercise outdoors. That, of course, is very reminiscent of the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. And then also nightly curfews have been moved to 7:00 P.M. So, some very strict measures in France, very strict measures in other European countries as well as this third wave is becoming more and more dangerous. Kate?

BOLDUAN: And the prime minister saying it is abundantly clear there that they're entering a third wave, not a good sign for things to come.


Thank you, Fred, great interview.

Thank you all so much for joining us today. It's been a very busy week. I'm Kate Bolduan.