New US Ambassador Aligned With Shifting Worldview on China

October 25, 2021 Updated: October 25, 2021

News Analysis

The U.S. government has the right to “expand our arms provisions to Taiwan,” said Nicholas Burns, President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. Ambassador to China.

During his Senate confirmation hearing on Oct. 20, Burns hit nearly all of China’s soft spots—the uncomfortable subjects that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wants the world to stop asking about, including issues related to Xinjiang, Taiwan, Hong Kong, COVID-19 origin, defense, and trade.

Burns went so far as to refer to the murder and repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang as “genocide.” He talked about the abuses in Tibet, as well as the CCP’s strong-arm tactics against Taiwan, declaring that it all had to stop.

Over the past five years, the Europe Union and other countries have hardened their stance on the Chinese regime. The European Parliament and other allies have moved to condemn the CCP’s atrocities in Xinjiang, military threats against Taiwan, and the loss of freedoms in Hong Kong. Other global allies are also demanding investigations into the origin of COVID-19, which they once dubbed a dark-web conspiracy theory.

Epoch Times Photo
European Commission’s executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager delivers a speech during a debate on EU-Taiwan political relations and cooperation at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Oct. 19, 2021. (Ronald Wittek/Pool via Reuters)

Now it seems that Burns’s message about the Chinese regime as a “dangerous competitor” may be more readily received by the world. This is good news for U.S. diplomacy, as the United States will no longer be seen as “going at it alone” in making unilateral decisions on China containment.

To this end, Burns called for the United States to strengthen cooperation with its allies, including Europe and Japan, in order to have real economic leverage against China. Building coalitions in the Indo-Pacific region was another goal, which Burns identified as crucial to countering the Chinese regime. He praised the AUKUS pact and the Quad, which revitalized U.S. relations with Australia and India, and further strengthened U.S. relations with Japan and the United Kingdom.

On defense, Burns advocated for maintaining a U.S. military presence in Japan, South Korea, and Guam as part of the China strategy, a position which is supported by U.S. allies South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, India, and other countries with territorial claims in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific region. He also warned of the threat of China’s buildup of nuclear weapons, which violates a pledge the CCP had made to minimize their nuclear stockpile. Recently, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced that it would be expanding its focus to counter a rising China threat.

Tough on trade, Burns said that the United States should make China abide by the terms of the phase one trade deal.

When the U.S.-China trade war first began, global powers accused the United States of mercantilism. They criticized former President Donald Trump for expanding the powers of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an inter-departmental federal agency that investigates foreign acquisitions of sensitive U.S. industries. As a result of CFIUS investigations and recommendations, the Trump administration blocked several major purchases by Chinese firms.

Just a few years later, the EU parliament called for tighter controls on Chinese foreign direct investment. UK Labour Party’s foreign policy chief Lisa Nandy has called for increased restrictions on Chinese investment, saying that Britain must be aware of the risk the CCP poses. Additionally, the Dutch government has banned Chinese companies from building nuclear reactors in the Netherlands.

However, moves toward greater prohibitions on Chinese investment come while Chinese companies are involved in a nuclear project in the UK. Similarly, the United States has allowed a Chinese company, with ties to the CCP, to purchase a large stake in a rare earth minerals mine and to transport the minerals back to China for processing. Some U.S., EU, and UK lawmakers have expressed concern about these potential threats to national security. This represents one more area where a tough U.S. stance on China could gain international support, and where the United States and its allies could cooperate.

Beijing’s reaction to the confirmation hearing was to be expected. Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, responded to Burns’ statements with a veiled threat: “We advise Burns to be keenly aware of the overall trend of world … learn the real situations … and avoid underestimating the strong resolve, determination and capability of the Chinese people to defend their rights.”

In Burns’s estimation, the Chinese regime’s most recent aggressive actions have alienated the country. It seems that more countries are moving toward the U.S. position, allowing for expanded spheres of cooperation and diplomacy between democracies.

“We should have confidence in our strength” in countering China, he said. “We will succeed if we build this American strength around our diplomacy.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent over 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Antonio works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."