Biden Admin 'Reviewing' Uighur Genocide Designation, U.N. Ambassador Nominee Says

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January 27, 2021

President Joe Biden's pick for U.N. ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield was unwilling to say during her Wednesday confirmation hearing that China was carrying out "genocide" against its Uighur population, stating that the genocide declaration was under review by the new administration's State Department.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) asked Thomas-Greenfield if she believed the Chinese government is "guilty of genocide" during her Wednesday-morning confirmation hearing. In response, Thomas-Greenfield said, "What they are doing there has been referred to as genocide. And I know that the State Department is reviewing that as we speak. What they are doing is horrific, and I look forward to seeing the results of the review that is being done."

Thomas-Greenfield's equivocal answer is at odds with remarks by others on the Biden team. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will be Thomas-Greenfield's boss if she is confirmed, said he agrees with the genocide designation during his own confirmation hearing last week. The Biden campaign also used the term "genocide" when it condemned China's treatment of the ethnic minority in August 2020.

Mixed messaging on the genocide issue is emblematic of the Biden White House's struggle to communicate a consistent message on China. On the one hand, the Biden team has selected China hawks in key positions, promising to be just as tough on China as the previous administration. On the other hand, Biden has also stressed the need to "cooperate" with China on issues of common interest, chiefly climate change and the global pandemic, sending a conflicting message about the direction of the administration's China policy.

Thomas-Greenfield's nomination is an example of how the Biden administration has struggled to maintain a tough-on-China message. The Biden administration initially billed her as a hawkish candidate who will be tough on China, but a Washington Post report found that the career diplomat gave a speech praising China's role in Africa at a Chinese government-controlled Confucius Institute in 2019. The revelation prompted both Democratic and Republican senators to grill Thomas-Greenfield about the circumstances surrounding the speech during her confirmation hearing. Thomas-Greenfield said it was a "huge mistake" to give the speech but said she was unaware that the speech was for the Confucius Institute when she accepted the invitation.

"The fact that this [speech] was associated with the Confucius Institute was truly a huge mistake on my part," Thomas-Greenfield said.

For some senators, Thomas-Greenfield crossed a line by having anything to do with the Confucius Institute."This is BAD," Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) wrote in a tweet. "Why did Biden's U.N. Ambassador nominee give a paid speech at a Confucius Institute praising China?"