On Wednesday, President Biden’s nominee for US ambassador to China set himself on a collision course with Beijing, promising to be a vocal critic of China’s human rights abuses and aggressive foreign policy if confirmed.
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Nicholas Burns took a tough stance, saying that the US should expand arms sales to Taiwan and demanding that Beijing end its genocide of minority Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
‘If there are atrocities occurring or, in the case of Xinjiang, a genocide is occurring, we have to speak out,’ he said.
‘And you’ve seen the president, Secretary Blinken, and all of the officials have been very forthright about that since January 20 of this year.
‘I think that will continue and that will certainly be – if I am confirmed – a hallmark of what I try to do: speaking directly to the Chinese government in Beijing.’
Burns, a 65-year-old career diplomat and former US ambassador to NATO, was also questioned about his position on Taiwan, a self-governing island that fears a Chinese attempt to reunite it with the mainland.
He stated that Washington was correct to pair its ‘one China’ policy on Taiwan with opposition to Beijing’s efforts to undermine the island’s current status.
‘Given China’s frankly objectionable statements towards Taiwan, I think that Congress and the executive branch have every right to continue to deepen our security cooperation, to expand our arms provisions to Taiwan. That’s the most important thing we can do,’ he said.
Human rights activists have described China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims as “genocide,” a term embraced by the Biden administration but rejected by China.
Burns laid out a hardline stance in his opening remarks, citing the People’s Republic of China’s aggression.
‘Beijing has been an aggressor against India along their Himalayan border; against Vietnam, the Philippines, and others in the South China Sea; against Japan in the East China Sea; and has launched an intimidation campaign against Australia and Lithuania.
‘The PRC’s genocide in Xinjiang and abuses in Tibet, its smothering of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, and its bullying of Taiwan are unjust, and must stop.
‘Beijing’s recent actions against Taiwan are especially objectionable.’
But he also spelled out Beijing’s weaknesses.
‘The PRC is not an Olympian power,’ he said.
‘While the PRC has many strengths, it also faces substantial demographic, economic, and political challenges.
‘We should have confidence in our own strengths — our scientific and technological capacities, world-class universities and research institutions, our military power, our first-rate diplomatic corps across both the foreign service and civil service, and, especially, our values that stand in brilliant opposition to Beijing’s actions.’