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Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to retire after 30 years of service

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For a few days longer, Wendy Sherman is the deputy secretary of state, the No. 2 U.S. diplomat. But she says her staff has already packed her office.

WENDY SHERMAN: I think that this exit is truly my last.

INSKEEP: Sherman is retiring after a career in three Democratic administrations. And during her final week, she talked with us. She asserted that the department has recovered from the personnel cuts of the Trump years. She also talked of a country with which diplomatic relations are strained, China. In recent days, China's foreign minister has also retired or has been retired much more unexpectedly than Sherman has.

What happened to Qin Gang?

SHERMAN: (Laughter) It is quite a mystery what happened to the foreign minister. Secretary Blinken said he has had constructive conversations with Qin Gang. And obviously, he had been the ambassador to the United States, so many of us got to know him rather well. This is a decision for the People's Republic of China, and very glad that they've appointed Wang Yi to be foreign minister. I know him quite well. And he's a very important channel of communication for the United States. As for Qin Gang, nobody knows.

INSKEEP: When I see a move like that, I wonder, is that a personnel matter or a policy matter? Meaning did they lose faith in this individual? Or does this indicate some change in what they intend to do in the world?

SHERMAN: I don't see a change in what they want to do in the world. I think Xi Jinping has been very clear about what he wants to do in the world. I want to do things the way I want to do things. And if you want money and support from the People's Republic of China, you have to agree to do it my way.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about the way the United States and this administration has tried to coordinate the policies of other nations toward China. I know that Western democracies are mostly united when it comes to a subject like Ukraine. Are they that united when they approach China?

SHERMAN: I think there's been a development in that arena. We now see a strong G-7 statement. We see strong statements and actions by the European Union. We see united sanctions when they're appropriate. We see, as well, areas in which the world hopes there's cooperation. Most recently, special presidential envoy Kerry, head of our climate negotiations, went to China, had conversations. And unfortunately, what Xi Jinping said is, China will do what it needs to do and decides to do for itself, but not part of an international process. I hope that's not how things play out, because as Americans have certainly seen, climate change is here.

INSKEEP: Our colleague Emily Feng reported on the program this week from Taiwan on the way that Taiwanese industry is retooling to make more weapons to support their defense forces. How great is the risk that they might need to use those weapons in the next few years against China, mainland China?

SHERMAN: I hope they don't. Our policy towards Taiwan has not changed. We believe that there needs to be stability across straits, that no one should take unilateral action to change that status quo. We don't support Taiwan's independence, but it is important economic and political and security entity in the world. And I hope they don't have to. But again, China itself has to get in a more secure position in terms of its military to be able to take the action militarily. And I think it would be dangerous for the entire world. At least half of all shipping containers go through the Taiwan Strait. So any action would have severe consequences for the world economy, not just for Taiwan.

INSKEEP: Deputy Secretary, I want to ask about one other thing. President Biden has very publicly made clear he wants U.S. foreign policy to be better aligned with U.S. public opinion, for whatever the U.S. does abroad to be popular at home, which maybe leads an administration to do some things or choose not to do certain things. Is there a situation in the world now, though, where that is hard, where public opinion just doesn't match what you think would be best to do?

SHERMAN: I actually think we're in pretty good shape in terms of public opinion. Ukraine is the obvious example in that way. The American public supports what we are doing in Ukraine. They understand that Putin made this horrendous decision to invade a sovereign country, to try to undermine its territorial integrity. The American public understands that we have spent a lot of money to help Ukraine defend itself. We haven't put American troops on the ground, which I think the American public would not want us to do. But we have to keep telling this story because populations can just tire of an issue which they wish would be over already.

INSKEEP: Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman, thank you so much.

SHERMAN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: She's retiring as the State Department's No. 2 diplomat. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.