President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Health and Human Services Department, Xavier Becerra, downplayed China’s human rights abuses during an effort to expand trade with the communist regime.
As detailed by the Washington Examiner, Becerra, who was a congressman in California in 1997, led a delegation of more than 20 House members on an economic mission to China. The trip followed a 1996 tour of Cuba, where Becerra met with Fidel Castro, then leader of the communist country, provoking anger among Cuban-American lawmakers.
The nomination of Becerra, who has been the California Attorney General since 2017, is not without opposition. Republicans oppose his bid to become secretary of the HHS, citing his ties with communist dictators like Castro and his support for China.
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee voted 14-14 along party lines on whether to advance Becerra’s nomination to the full Senate. Although Becerra is likely to be confirmed by the Democratic majority, he faces steep opposition over his views on abortion and other issues, according to the Examiner, which detailed his trip to China.
Following his return to the United States in 1997, Becerra appeared to kowtow to the communist regime by downplaying allegations of its widespread human rights abuses. Becerra said that although China needed to improve its record, the country has a “different perspective” on human rights.
His remarks fall in line with remarks made by President Joe Biden late last month in which he appeared to dismiss China’s bad track record with human rights, including the ongoing genocide of the Uyghurs, as “different cultural norms.”
“We have two very different cultures, and we have two very different perspectives on the world,” Becerra said in an interview with NPR. “That’s not to say one perspective is better than the other.”
Becerra explained that China could be excused for its stance because it was a then-developing country with different cultural attitudes. So it was understandable that its leaders would take “a dim view of what they consider meddling by the U.S. in its affairs internally — especially with regard to human rights.”
As an example, Becerra pointed out that Chinese leaders didn't believe in freedom of the press because the country was struggling to feed its massive population, which had surged past a billion in the 1990s.
“It’s not so much that they don’t agree with us,” he said. “It’s that they look at things differently.”
Becerra said that it was important for diplomats to never disagree with the Chinese because having an amicable attitude allowed the Chinese to “save face” during a tough conversation.
In 1997, China came under fire for its persecution of religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet. The country had also recently gained control of Hong Kong following its transfer from Britain. In the decades since then, all China-controlled regions have faced a steady loss of human rights.
As detailed by the Washington Examiner, Becerra cast a decisive vote in former President Bill Clinton’s 2000 effort to allow China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. The move has allowed China to quickly surge into the second most dominant economy on the planet, poised to overtake the United States in the coming years.