President Joe Biden’s pick to be US Ambassador to China called for a continued commitment to the longstanding “One China” Policy but defended the United States’ right to increase security assistance to Taiwan amid Beijing’s aggression towards the island.
Testifying at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, Nicholas Burns said reports indicating that China could be building up its nuclear arsenal are concerning, and called on Beijing to halt its “genocide in Xinjiang, its abuses in Tibet, its smothering of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, and its bullying of Taiwan.”
If confirmed, Burns would fill the ambassador role – which has been vacant for a year – amid ongoing tensions between Washington and Beijing, a relationship he called “complicated and consequential.”
“Beijing’s recent actions against Taiwan are especially objectionable,” he said. “The United States is right to continue to adhere to its one-China policy. But we’re also right to support the peaceful resolution of disputes in this region, and to oppose unilateral actions that undermine the status quo and undermine the stability of the region.”
Under the “One China” Policy, the US acknowledges China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.
However, Burns also spoke of the continued adherence to the Taiwan Relations Act, a 1979 law that underpins the US’ unofficial relationship with Taiwan, including the government’s ability to provide weapons to the self-ruled island.
Burns, a former career diplomat, said the US has “enormous latitude – Congress and the executive branch – under the Taiwan Relations Act to deepen our security assistance to Taiwan.”
“Given what China’s done, given China’s frankly objectionable statements towards Taiwan, I think the Congress and the executive branch have every right to continue to deepen our security cooperation, to expand our arms provisions to Taiwan, that’s the most important thing we can do,” Burns told Senate Foreign Relations Committee lawmakers.
In recent weeks, Beijing has sent dozens of warplanes near into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), and Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that “reunification” between China and Taiwan was inevitable.
Stressed importance of US military presence in Asia
Burns emphasized the importance of maintaining a US military presence in Asia as a means to deter Chinese aggressions.
“Maybe the most important thing we can do is maintain the American military position in Japan, in the Republic of Korea, in that first island chain but also out to our Anderson Air Force Base in Guam,” he said, describing that presence as an “effective deterrent to keep the peace.”
Burns also said that reports indicating that China is pursuing a build-up nuclear arms, as well as reports about its novel delivery systems, are concerning.
The Financial Times reported that China in August tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile. China has denied the report, saying it was a “routine spacecraft experiment.”
“What I think has to bother all of us is the attitude of the Chinese government. They don’t believe that they should be constrained in any way shape or form by arms control. The United States submits to that; Russia submits to that, at least did in the past. Our other nuclear allies, the United Kingdom and France do,” he said.
“I know the Trump administration made an effort to do this, and was right to do it, to push the Chinese to think about their obligations. And I think it’s very important that we do that on a bipartisan basis. But certainly these are troubling developments,” Burns added.
The Trump administration tried without success to get China to participate in trilateral talks with the US and Russia with the aim of achieving of three party nuclear arms control agreement.
Burns, a former under secretary of state for political affairs and US ambassador to NATO and Greece, also underscored that the US should seek to cooperate with China in areas “where it is in our interest, including on climate change, counternarcotics, global health, and nonproliferation.”
CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Nicole Gaouette and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.