Biden’s Secretary of State Backs Trump’s Tough Approach to China

Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing, Antony Blinken also endorsed outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration that the Chinese government is engaged in ‘genocide’ against Muslim ethnic minorities.

Antony Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Blinken was previously Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration.
Antony Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Blinken was previously Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration. (photo: Alex Edelman-Pool / Getty Images)

Some signs exist — at least so far — that the Biden administration looks set to take a more tough-minded and aggressive approach toward China than expected, with possible positive implications for Christians in the communist country. 

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, incoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he agreed with Donald Trump’s firm U.S. stance on China, even if he differed on his methods. 

Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he believed Trump “was right in taking a tougher approach to China,” adding that although he disagreed “very much with the way he went about it in a number of areas,” he nevertheless thought “the basic principle was the right one” and that it was “actually helpful to our foreign policy.”

President Trump became increasingly aggressive toward China throughout his presidency, launching a trade war against the People’s Republic and imposing various sanctions on both the communist regime and the Hong Kong government. He also pulled the U.S. out of the World Health Organization, accusing it of being “virtually controlled by China.”  

Blinken, described by Politico as a “europeanist, multilateralist, internationalist,” told the hearing: “There is no doubt that [China] poses the most significant challenge of any nation-state in the world to the United States.”

He noted some potential to cooperate with the communist nation but agreed with outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration this week that China was carrying out genocide against the Muslim Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

“That would be my judgment as well,” Blinken said when asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina about Pompeo's declaration. He added later: “Forcing men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to in effect re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide.”

The incoming secretary of state, a former top adviser to then-Sen. Biden and foreign policy adviser in the Obama administration, also told the hearing that the U.S. should have acted sooner as “democracy was being trampled” in Hong Kong. 

He added that he would like the U.S. to also take some refugees “fleeing the repression” in the Chinese territory, as they are “standing up for their democratic rights.” 

But it’s an open question whether Blinken will also defend the rights of China’s Christians in the way his immediate predecessor did. 

Last year, Pompeo wrote an article in First Things sharply critical of the Sino-Vatican two-year provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops and urging the Holy See not to renew it — which they nevertheless did in October. 

The article reportedly played a key role in Pompeo being refused a private audience with Pope Francis on a visit to Rome in September, and caused something of a diplomatic ruckus, even though Pompeo’s audacity to criticize the Vatican’s position toward China in public won him many plaudits from underground Christians and religious freedom defenders in China.

Blinken, who is Jewish with close relatives who survived the Holocaust, has other priorities than Pompeo, a Christian, and his emphasis on multilateralism could soften his actions, especially in relation to the Vatican. 

But Blinken’s obvious concerns about human rights abuses in the People’s Republic, the fact he has “no doubt” about China’s goal to seek world domination, and his perceptiveness over Hong Kong shows a willingness to take, if not quite as hard a line as Trump on China, certainly one that appears to come close. 

Other new Biden administration appointees at their confirmation hearings this week also criticized China, including Janet Yellen, Biden’s prospective Treasury Secretary — the office that has the power to impose sanctions. 

During her hearing, Yellen reportedly criticized China’s “horrendous human rights abuses” and accused the country of stealing American intellectual property. 

The former chairman of the Federal Reserve said the Biden administration would be “prepared to use the full array of tools” to address such practices. 

Pope Francis greets Secretary Antony Blinken at the Vatican on June 28, 2021.

Pope Francis Meets Secretary Antony Blinken at Vatican

Blinken’s morning visit to Vatican City included a meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, as well as a tour of the Sistine Chapel.