WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 (Reuters) – Nicholas Burns, President Joe Biden’s candidate to become US ambassador to China, took a hard line on relations with China during his Senate hearing on Wednesday, saying: genocide in Xinjiang,” abuses in Tibet, and bullying in Taiwan must end.
Burns, who calls China the “most dangerous competitor” to the United States, said Beijing is “destroying” its pledge to maintain only a minimal nuclear deterrent, adding that Washington should work with allies in Europe and elsewhere to secure economic growth. build power.
Human rights advocates and the US government have called China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region “genocide,” a characterization that China rejects.
“The PRC’s genocide in Xinjiang, the abuses in Tibet, the stifling of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms and the bullying of Taiwan are unjust and must stop,” Burns said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
Burns, 65, a career diplomat and former ambassador to NATO, also said Washington is right in sticking to its current “One China” policy on Taiwan, but has the right to oppose actions by Beijing undermining the status quo.
Some lawmakers, including some of Biden’s fellow Democrats, have called on Washington to reconsider its decades-old policy of taking no stance on Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Burns said China’s military threat to Taiwan was increasing, but maintaining the One-China policy was the smartest and most effective way to stop China from using violence on the self-ruled democratic island.
“This is a policy that can succeed if we implement it consistently and with some force,” Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that the main deterrent to the United States was to maintain its military position in the Indo-Pacific. .
Still, he said Congress and the executive branch had every right to “expand our arms supplies to Taiwan.”
Burns is expected to easily win confirmation and earn praise from members of both parties. “It is, I think, appropriate that Ambassador Burns has been appointed to this position,” said Senator Jim Risch, the committee’s top Republican.
Burns also elaborated on his view that China is relatively isolated internationally.
“The Chinese are so aggressive that they have generated a lot of opposition to them. And I think we should not exaggerate their strengths or underestimate the strengths of the United States,” Burns said.
He said Beijing was antagonizing the world over the origin of the coronavirus.
“We need to investigate. We’re not sure how this virus came about, there are multiple theories and the Chinese need to answer the questions,” Burns said.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Burns’s comments.
Burns said that, unlike during the Cold War, US competition with China would be about economic and technological power, not military capabilities.
He said the United States was right to hold Beijing to its “phase one” trade deal obligations, and urged Congress to pass languishing China-related legislation aimed at boosting US domestic competitiveness in critical sectors. such as semiconductors.
“It’s arguably the most important thing we can do — invest in our technology future, like the Senate is doing with your strategic innovation bill, which the government backed very strongly. And so do I,” Burns said.
Working with the European Union and Japan on economic issues would provide “real influence” on China, he added.
He was asked about the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, but did not respond directly to some calls for a boycott of the games over human rights issues.
Due to China’s COVID restrictions, the Olympics were likely the “most unusual games ever” as few foreign spectators were expected, he said.
“Obviously we want to make sure that the American athletes… can express their opinion, have access to the media and say what they want to say,” Burns said. “And I hope and trust that the International Olympic Committee will make that possible.”
Reporting by Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sandra Maler and Alistair Bell
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