Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US President Joe Biden’s nominee for US ambassador to the UN, on Wednesday called China “a strategic adversary” that threatens the world, and expressed regret for a speech she gave in 2019 that praised Beijing’s initiatives in Africa and made no mention of its human rights abuses.
During her confirmation hearing at the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the veteran diplomat was pressured by US senators Ron Johnson and Ted Cruz about the speech at Savannah State University’s Confucius Institute on “China-US-Africa Relationships.”
In it, she praised Beijing’s US$1 trillion Belt and Road global infrastructure program in Africa, and called for “a win-win-win situation” where the US and China would promote good governance, the rule of law and other values on the continent.
Asking her why she had said the US is not in a new cold war with China, Johnson pointed to Hong Kong, where China has cracked down on democracy activists, and Taiwan, where Beijing says flights by its warplanes near the country last weekend were a warning against foreign interference in any independence moves.
“China is a strategic adversary, and their actions threaten our security, they threaten our values and they threaten our way of life, and they are a threat to their neighbors and they are a threat across the globe,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
She said that in the speech, which she wrote, she was referring to Africa, which was “sort of a pawn in the Cold War, and my conversation there was to say that Africans can no longer allow themselves to be a pawn. But this is not a cold war for them, they have to take control of their own futures.”
Cruz was tougher, expressing concern at “a pattern of Biden administration nominees of consistently moving towards and embracing the Chinese Communist Party.”
He said this became worse with Thomas-Greenfield’s speech at the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute, which he said has had “repeated problems of espionage and propaganda.”
“This speech is cheerleading for the Chinese Communist Party” and makes no mention of China’s human rights violations, he said.
Beijing has been sharply criticized for putting more than 1 million Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups into camps, among other rights abuses.
“It was not my intention, nor do I think that I cheered on the Chinese Communist Party,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
“This is one speech in my 35-year career, and I do regret that speech,” she added.
“I am not at all naive about what the Chinese are doing and I have called them out on a regular basis,” she said. “I see what they’re doing at the United Nations as undermining our values... I will be working aggressively against China.”
Thomas-Greenfield was also questioned about a host of other issues, including the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers, which former US president Donald Trump pulled out of in 2018.
She said the US would be working not only with allies, “but to see where we can find common ground with the Russians and the Chinese to put more pressure on the Iranians to push them back into strict compliance.”
In opening remarks, Thomas-Greenfield spoke of China’s diplomatic inroads during the Trump administration, which pursued an “America First” policy that weakened international alliances. She made clear that there would be a change under Biden to re-engaging internationally and promoting US values.
US leadership must be rooted in the country’s core values — “support for democracy, respect for universal human rights, and the promotion of peace and security,” she said.
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