Joe Biden claimed Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s “weak” stance on China empowered the communist nation to implement a crackdown on Hong Kong without fear of reprisal.
The former vice president, who has faced attacks from the Trump campaign for being too favorable toward China, lambasted Beijing’s decision to institute a new national security law on the residents of Hong Kong. The long-threatened law makes public protest and other acts of dissent against the regime a crime. China has already arrested at least one protester under the new law.
Its legality is particularly problematic as Hong Kong is supposed to be autonomous from Beijing, as stipulated by a 1984 treaty between the United Kingdom and China outlining the former colony’s return to the mainland.
Biden, in response to the law’s imposition, accused China of “dealing a death blow to the freedoms and autonomy that set Hong Kong apart from the rest” of the country. Biden did not spend a great deal of time discussing the law itself, choosing instead to lay blame for China’s actions on Trump.
“It’s no wonder Beijing is acting with impunity. Time and again, President Trump has surrendered our values and reassured China’s autocrats they have a like-minded partner in the White House,” Biden said, before promising his administration would enact heavy economic sanctions against China.
“Under my watch, America will stand up for dissidents and defenders of human rights in China,” Biden said, pledging to enforce human rights laws, prevent U.S. companies from abetting the regime, and pass laws prohibiting the importation of goods produced through “forced labor.”
“Where Trump has been weak, I will be strong, clear, and consistent in standing up for our values,” he added.
Biden’s blustery response to Beijing’s crackdown comes as the Trump campaign attacks him over his prior support for liberalized trade relations with China and his son’s business ties to the country. The strategy was on display in April, when Trump’s campaign released an ad accusing Biden of “standing up” for China’s interests over his nearly 40-year career in public office. The ad included a number of old soundbites showing Biden praising China, even claiming in one that the country’s rise was good for the U.S. and the world.
In the wake of such attacks, Biden’s rhetoric and stances have evolved. When he first entered the 2020 race, Biden’s campaign made little mention of China. In the few rare instances that Biden did mention the Asian power, it was usually while making quips at Trump’s insistence that the country posed a threat to American economic interests.
The coronavirus outbreak, however, seemed to impact his thinking. Starting in early May, Biden began attacking Trump for failing to hold China accountable for its deficiencies in handling the initial outbreak.
“Trump was praising the Chinese government and downplaying the threat to the American people as I was warning of the need to get the people into China to see what was actually going on,” the former vice president said during an MSNBC appearance that month.
Since then, Biden has only ramped up his attacks culminating in his statement on Wednesday in response to China’s move against Hong Kong.