Nicholas Burns told the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that China’s aggression, intimidation tactics, genocide, and broken promises meant the country could not be taken at its word on key diplomatic issues like Taiwan.
He said China’s most recent incursions into Taiwan’s airspace with 150 aircraft 10 days ago were “especially objectionable”.
“We certainly cannot trust the Chinese on this issue, we have to be aware of their rhetoric, aware of it, and the rhetoric of its leader and many other Chinese leaders in recent months is that they intend to take back Taiwan,” Mr Burns said.
After China’s increasingly inflammatory rhetoric on taking Taiwan by force, President Xi Jinping attempted to lower the temperature by saying reunification should happen “peacefully”.
But with Mr Xi’s comments incongruous to his military’s continued probing of the country’s defences, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen warned in Foreign Affairs magazine they would do “whatever it takes” to defend itself from annexation by China.
Mr Burns told the Senate this week that the United States has a responsibility to increase Taiwan’s asymmetric defences and capabilities to make the country a “tough nut to crack”.
“Beijing has been an aggressor against India, along their long Himalayan border, against Vietnam, the Philippines and others in the South China sea, against Japan in the East China Sea, and Beijing has launched an intimidation campaign against Australia and even more recently Lithuania, the PRC’s genocide, in Xinjiang, its abuses in Tibet, its smothering of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, and its bullying of Taiwan, are unjust and must stop,” Mr Burns said.
He added that he was in Hong Kong during the British handover to China and particularly remembered the commitments made by the party’s leadership to the people of Hong Kong and the world.
“And the Chinese have gone back on every one of those commitments, so if we link that to Taiwan, we obviously cannot trust China to meet the commitments it’s made on the Taiwan issue,” Mr Burns said.
Despite talking tough on China, Mr Burns said there should be no change to the policy of the past 40 years of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan, which provides no formal commitment from the US of helping Taipei defend against a Chinese attack.
“We’re better off, and we’ll be more effective, in staying with the One China policy of the last four decades,” he said.
Mr Burns’s continued embrace of the strategic ambiguity policy, in contrast to increasing hawkishness on Capitol Hill, was welcomed by China as a signal his “deliberately picked tough words” were simply to pass his Senate confirmation hearing.
China’s state-run media arm, The Global Times, said the country would be able to reshape Mr Burns’ opinion as they’ve been able to reshape the United States diplomatic relations.
“We have noticed that in his statement, Burns did not suggest new additional moves for the US to deal with China. Therefore, his statement of toughness seemed to be a bit hollow,” The GlobalTimes said in an editorial.
“Beijing may just welcome this new US ambassador with a calm mind. He does not have the positive desire and energy to improve China-US relations, but he also has very few tools to attack us.”
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