Leading the criticism was Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who asked Blinken whether he would impose “a serious cost” on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over its human rights violations, and whether he would retain the Commerce Department’s “entity list” blacklisting Chinese companies involved in human rights abuses.
“I’ve chaired over 75 congressional hearings focused exclusively on CCP human rights violations, including pervasive religious persecution, torture, gulag labor, forced abortion, organ harvesting, democracy suppression, media censorship, the jailing of journalists and bloggers, and genocide,” Smith said.
In response to Smith’s questions, Blinken said that he intended to build “coalitions of like-minded countries who share these deep concerns about human rights abuses in China.”
“We are determined to put human rights and democracy back at the center of our foreign policy, to make sure that we have the tools that we need to be most effective in advancing human rights and democracy,” Blinken said.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) questioned Blinken on his view of the CCP’s persecution in China’s far-western Xinjiang region, specifically whether the secretary of state agreed with President Joe Biden’s assessment of China having “different norms.” Blinken appeared to sidestep the question.
“We have and we will continue to speak out forcefully and shine the light on these egregious violations of human rights,” Blinken said.
Biden made the comment during a CNN Town Hall event in mid-February, when he recalled his phone conversation with Chinese leader Xi Jinping days earlier. Biden said, “Culturally, there are different norms in each country, and their leaders are expected to follow,” referring to the Chinese regime’s abuses in Xinjiang versus the U.S. stance on human rights.
Critics have said Biden’s remarks lend legitimacy to the CCP’s rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, where more than 1 million ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs, are currently detained in concentration camps.
In January, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Beijing had committed “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
The Biden administration’s decision to rejoin the World Health Organization (WHO) was brought up by Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), who told Blinken that he was “dismayed” at the decision, since the health body was a “co-conspirator in covering up the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.”
Then-President Donald Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the WHO in May 2020, saying that the WHO had refused to act on reforms recommended by the United States. After taking office, Biden signed an executive order halting the U.S. withdrawal.
Barr questioned Blinken about whether the Biden administration was “serious in holding the CCP accountable” for causing the pandemic.
In response, Blinken said it was better for the United States to bring reforms to the WHO from within, rather than by not being a part of it.
Beijing didn’t publicly acknowledge that the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, was contagious until Jan. 20, 2020, several weeks after Taiwan had warned the WHO of the risk of human-to-human transmission in an email. The WHO has denied that the email contained such a warning.
Biden’s decision to rejoin the WHO was also at the top of concerns for Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.). Steube also asked Blinken to explain why Biden has undone a number of Trump’s tough China policies, including the refusal to keep Chinese tech giant Huawei on the “entity list” and delaying rules that prevent American investment in Chinese companies with ties to the Chinese military.
Blinken didn’t fully answer Steube’s question but defended Biden’s decision to rejoin the WHO.