On the eve of President-elect Joe Biden‘s swearing-in, Antony Blinken, the new administration’s choice for secretary of state, said he believes President Trump is right to take a tough stance on China and supports Secretary Pompeo‘s decision to find China guilty of “genocide” in Xinjiang.
Blinken appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday (Jan. 19) for a confirmation hearing on his nomination. Several bipartisan lawmakers have focused on China, arguing that how to deal with Chinese challenges and threats will be central to the future of U.S. foreign policy.
“President Trump is right to take a tougher stance on China,” Blinken, who was national security adviser to then-Vice President Joe Biden and later served as permanent deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, said at the hearing, “although not the line he’s taken (all of which I agree with), his basic principles are the right ones.”
Blinken, 58, is a seasoned diplomat who has held many positions in U.S. foreign policy. Blinken’s statement signals that the incoming administration’s approach to China will likely maintain the current tone of response.
Blinken is not an unfamiliar face to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Having served on the committee from 2002 to 2008 as a key foreign policy staffer for congressional Democrats, Blinken’s professional background in international relations is well known to members of both parties.
Blinken: China Commits Genocide in Xinjiang, Misleads World on New Crown Epidemic
At Tuesday’s hearing, Blinken responded positively to a barrage of questions from lawmakers of both parties.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) of South Carolina, a heavyweight senior Republican member, asked about China’s human rights in Xinjiang.
“Secretary Pompeo has determined that the Chinese Communist Party has committed genocide against Uighur Muslims. Do you agree with that assertion?” Graham asked during the hearing.
“That’s my judgment as well,” Blinken said.
“You agree?” Graham pressed.
“Yes,” Blinken replied.
Then during the hearing, Graham began to continue questioning Blinken about China’s responsibility in the global outbreak of the new coronavirus pandemic. Graham asked, “Do you believe that the Chinese Communist Party misled the world about the New Coronavirus?”
“I believe that,” Blinken said.
“What price, if any, do you think they should pay?”
“When it comes to the role that China played in the New Coronavirus, as you know, the investigation is ongoing. We obviously want to see the results of that investigation. But there are some things we already know,” Blinken replied.
“The point we should be discussing is that what we already know about China and the virus is that they have not provided transparency. They didn’t share information. They didn’t provide information early on in the virus, at the most critical Time. If they had done that at the time, it’s possible that the virus spread in a different direction and we could have dealt with it faster and more effectively,” Blinken continued in reply, “My sense is, what should we focus on going forward? I know a lot of people are talking about how to punish, and I think I would focus more on prevention, that is. What measures China will take in the future.”
“Wet markets, for example,” said Sen. Graham, who has repeatedly and harshly called on China to shut down all wet markets since the outbreak of the new crown in the United States last March.
“Yes, that’s a good example,” Blinken continued.
Blinken: Seek international cooperation to work together to put pressure on Beijing
During the hearing, Blinken echoed Secretary Pompeo, who is stepping down from his post, on his positions on many China issues. However, Blinken stressed that, unlike the current administration, he will focus more on working with other democracies to jointly put pressure on Beijing.
“No one has a good idea when they have a monopoly on their own, and I hope we can work together and brainstorm,” Blinken said.
After President-elect Biden and his deputy Harris were sworn in Wednesday, the two freshman senators who won a special election for Georgia’s Senate seat earlier this month will also be seated under Harris’ chairmanship, symbolizing the Democrats’ formal return to the Senate majority and reaching full rule with control of the White House, the House and the Senate in Congress.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the soon-to-be chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, asked Blinken during the hearing what strategy he would take in the future to deal with China.
Blinken detailed that he believes China poses a greater challenge to U.S. interests than any other country, and that the standoff is not only adversarial, but also competitive.
“I think that when we’re thinking about how to deal with China, we have to approach China from a position of strength rather than a position of weakness,” Blinken said, “and the good news is that doing that is largely within our grasp.”
“To increase strength, we have to work with our allies rather than denigrate them, which is a source of strength in our dealings with China; to increase strength, we have to participate in and lead international institutions rather than retreat and cede ground to China and let China write the rules and norms that drive those institutions; and speaking of strength, we have to stand up for our values,” Blinken further clarified.
Blinken stated bluntly that decades of congressional assumption that China’s economic liberalization would lead to political liberalization was clearly a false presumption, and that did not happen.
“China’s policy for decades has been to hide their true intentions, to bide their time, to defend their interests outside of China, to not draw attention to what they’re doing in their own country,” Blinken said, “and I think in recent years, especially since Xi Jinping became leader, we’ve seen those hide-and-seek approaches have faded away and they’ve become more confident that they’re going to seek to be the leading country in the world, to be the country that can lead in setting the standards and exporting their model hoping that other countries will pursue it.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has also bluntly stated that such attempts by China have led to a dangerous imbalance that is reflected in the commercial and geopolitical spheres, but is also becoming increasingly evident in the military sphere.
Blinken also made a clear statement on the issue of Taiwan, saying it would be a “grave mistake” for China to use force against Taiwan.
“We have a long-term, bipartisan commitment to Taiwan and the Taiwan Relations Act. We need to make sure they have a way to stop aggression and protect themselves. I want to see Taiwan more involved in the world. It’s a model of democracy in many ways, with a strong economy and technology. And certainly, there’s a lot we can learn from the way they’ve handled the New Coronavirus,” Blinken said.
He added that the United States is committed to ensuring that Taiwan is capable of defending itself against the Chinese military threat. “The commitment to Taiwan is unwavering for us,” Blinken said.
Addressing Hong Kong during the four-and-a-half-hour-long hearing, Blinken said bluntly that Beijing’s imposed national security laws undermine Hong Kong’s true freedom and autonomy, and that Washington must next carefully consider how to provide substantial help to Hong Kong people, including providing sanctuary to those who are being oppressed.
I would like to see, for example, that we are able to accommodate some of the people who have fled Hong Kong and escaped repression because they are fighting for their democratic rights,” he said. I know there is already a bill for that, but I think we have to seriously consider what position we should take with respect to institutions and companies in Hong Kong. Is Hong Kong going to continue to be a hub and a financial center? And is Beijing going to benefit left and right? We should take a hard look at that question.”
Intelligence Director Pick Haynes: More Counterintelligence Training on China’s Intelligence Threat
The Senate held confirmation hearings on the same day Tuesday for five key cabinet nominees for the new Biden Administration, and in addition to the secretary of state nominee, the nominees to lead the intelligence, defense, finance and national security departments were questioned by the committees to which their positions belong.
At the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Biden’s handpicked nominee for director of intelligence, Avril Haines, said he “will provide the intelligence necessary to support a bipartisan effort to defeat China.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the Chinese government’s intelligence efforts have sought to infiltrate the U.S. base at any cost. The goal is to win over local officials who could become U.S. leaders to agree with China’s policies in the future, or even to develop pro-China policies.
“I totally agree with you that we need more training in this area,” said Haynes, who served as deputy director of the CIA. “I noticed that one of your recommendations in the Intelligence Committee’s report on the work on Russia mentioned the need for more training in counterintelligence. I think that’s very applicable in the case of China as well.”
As was the case with the Foreign Affairs Committee, lawmakers from both parties again focused on China. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the soon-to-be chairman of the committee, asked Haynes directly, “Is China under Communist rule an adversary (adversary) to the United States?”
“China is adversary to us on some issues, is an adversary, but on other issues we try to work with them, including other things like climate change, and ultimately the president-elect sees China as a ‘global competitor,'” Haynes said.
“But I think, to answer your question, when it comes to espionage or other areas that I focus on, they are an adversary and we have to start dealing with that,” Haynes continued. She also said she would counter various “illegal, unfair and aggressive actions” by Beijing.
If confirmed by the Senate, Haynes would become the leader of the intelligence community, which oversees 18 U.S. intelligence units, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The position was created in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.