Speaking at a CNN town hall event on Tuesday evening, President Joe Biden dismissed the pressing issue of China’s genocide of the Uyghur people, referring to the mass incarceration of members of the ethnic minority group as the result of “different norms.”
His remarks are contrary to the State Department’s referral to the mass internment as “atrocities,” following reports of systemic rape and torture in detainment centres, according to Forbes.
Biden’s remarks came after he was asked about his recent conversation with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, and began his response by relaying Xi’s justification for the abuses.
“If you know anything about Chinese history… the time when China has been victimized by the outer world is when they haven’t been unified at home,” Biden said. “Vastly overstated — 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.”
China has come under increasing scrutiny relating to its activities in the western province of Xinjiang as well as its clampdown on democratic freedoms in the island state of Hong Kong. It has also faced international pressure for its failure to report on and contain the coronavirus pandemic in late 2019 and early 2020.
“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,” Biden continued. “And so the idea that I am 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… [Xi] gets it.”
“Culturally there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow,” he added.
The BBC recently reported on cases of systemic torture and rape currently ongoing in the Uyghur concentration camps. The BBC was banned from China following the report, according to Reuters.
When asked if Biden intended to act on China’s abuses, Biden sidestepped the question with an evasive answer, stating that the United States would “reassert our role as spokespersons for human rights at the UN and other agencies.”
“Well, there will be repercussions for China, and [Xi] 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 UN and other agencies that have an impact on their attitude,” he said.
When CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Biden if China was not already too powerful to be stopped, Biden said that human rights would win the day.
“China is trying very hard to become the world leader. And to get that moniker and be able to do that, they have to gain the confidence of other countries. And as long as they are engaged in activity that is contrary to basic human rights, it’s going to be hard for them to do that,” he said. “But it’s much more complicated than that, I shouldn’t try to talk China policy in 10 minutes on television here.”
Biden’s position on China is markedly different from former president Trump’s relationship with the Chinese communist regime. Trump enjoyed a warm friendship and a bipartisan commitment to Taiwan, a commitment which current Sec. of State Antony Blinken reiterated in January during his confirmation hearings.
Biden has not publicly acknowledged receiving a phone call or communicating with Taiwan's president since his inauguration.