Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) on Thursday called out China’s repressive treatment of its minority Uyghur population — a stark contrast to President Joe Biden’s remarks expressing sympathy for China on the issue earlier in the week.
Cotton, during remarks at a Reagan Institute event, recalled how in 2014, Chinese Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping had traveled to China’s far-west Xinjiang Province to instruct his lieutenants on how to treat the religious and ethnic minority Uyghur population.
Cotton said Xi had called for an “all-out struggle against terrorism, infiltration, and domination,” that should be waged using the “organs of dictatorship” and should show “absolutely no mercy” to enemies of the Party.
“The world has now seen what [Chinese Communist Party] Chairman Xi [Jinping] meant by merciless dictatorship: the Uyghurs are victims of genocide on a sickening scale,” he said.
“If that’s what the Chinese Communist Party does to its own people, imagine what it’ll do to the rest of the world,” he added.
Cotton also said standing up for human rights has always been “fundamental to America’s foreign policy,” particularly against “Communists tyrannies, and recalled how much the Soviet Union hated when former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan would raise human rights at the beginning of bilateral conversations. He added:
Of course we should defend basic human liberty, which is good in and of itself in all places. But it also very important to our strategic competition with China, just as it was with the Soviet Union.
After the question of Taiwan, Communist Party leaders probably hate any question about Uyghurs, or Hong Kong, or Tibet, or Christian house churches more than anything else.
Cotton noted that China — on the day Biden was inaugurated — sanctioned former Trump administration officials who had raised human right issues, showing just how sensitive they were.
“We should raise those issues. Not only because it’s good and right in itself, but because it puts the Communist Party on its back foot where it belongs,” he added.
Cotton’s comments contrasted with Biden’s just two days earlier, during a CNN townhall.
CNN Anchor Anderson Cooper brought up Biden’s recent call with Xi, which lasted for two hours, and asked him if he brought up the subject of Uyghurs.
Biden appeared to sympathize with Xi over its treatment of Uyghurs by saying China had “different norms”:
I talked about — I said — look, you know, Chinese leaders — if you know anything about Chinese history, it has always been — the time when China has been victimized by the outer world is when they haven’t been unified at home. So the central — to vastly overstate it — the central principle of Xi Jinping is that there must be a united, tightly controlled China. And he uses his rationale for the things he does based on that.
I point out to him: No American President can be sustained as a President if he doesn’t reflect the values of the United States. And so the idea I’m not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uyghurs in western mountains of China and Taiwan, trying to end the One China policy by making it forceful — I said — and by the — he said he — he gets it. Culturally, there are different norms that each country and they — their leaders — are expected to follow.
When Anderson pressed Biden further about whether the U.S. would impose repercussions on China, Biden responded that he would continue to speak about human rights issues, but that the repercussions might be that China would not “gain the confidence” from other countries to lead the world.
Well, there will be repercussions for China, and he knows that. What I’m doing is making clear that we, in fact, are going to continue to reassert our role as spokespersons for human rights at the U.N. and other — other agencies that have an impact on their attitude.
China is trying very hard to become the world leader and to get that moniker. And to be able to do that, they have to gain the confidence of other countries. And as long as they’re engaged in activity that is contrary to basic human rights, it’s going to be hard for them to do that.
Biden conceded his answer was not clearcut.
“But it’s much more complicated than that. I’m — I shouldn’t have tried to talk China policy in 10 minutes on television here,” he said.
Biden has been under pressure to show that his administration will be tough on China after appearing to dismiss the challenge it poses to America on the campaign trail. Biden famously said at one campaign event, “China is going to eat our lunch? C’mon man,” as Breitbart News reported.