‘Different norms’: Biden downplays China’s repression of Uighurs

At his CNN town hall Tuesday night, President Joe Biden downplayed China’s repression of its Uighur Muslim minority, which former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month declared “genocide,” instead calling the mass internment a “different norm.”

The president’s remarks come a few days after his first phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping and after the U.S. State Department earlier this month said it was “deeply disturbed” by a report from the BBC about the systemic rape and torture of millions of Uighurs. Following the report’s release, China banned BBC World News from its airwaves.

Tuesday evening, Biden was asked by CNN host Anderson Cooper about his roughly two-hour talk with the Chinese leader and began by talking about Xi’s justification for the human rights violations.

“If you know anything about Chinese history, it has always been, the time when China has been victimized by the outer world is when they haven’t been unified at home,” Biden began. “So the central—well, 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.”

“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,” the president continued. “And so the idea—I am not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uighurs 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 continued.

Biden was also asked if there would be repercussions for the Chinese Communist Party for the human rights violations.

“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.

Moreover, the U.S. president was also asked if China was already too powerful to be prevented from continuing its human rights abuses.

“China is trying very hard to become the world leader,” Biden said. “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.

“But it’s much more complicated than that,” he added, “I shouldn’t try to talk China policy in 10 minutes on television here.”

Pompeo fired back at Biden for his remarks about China, telling the Fox News show “Mornings with Maria” Wednesday that Biden was evoking “Chinese propaganda.”

“That language that it’s just a set of different norms, that’s the Chinese propaganda line, they want you to think this is just a quiet nation [that] may have a little bit of a different system, but goodness gracious, what’s all the fuss about?” Pompeo told host Maria Bartiromo.

“The truth of the matter is they are trying to wipe out an entire people,” he said.

On top of that, Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his confirmation hearings in January agreed with the then-outgoing Pompeo about China’s actions against the Uighurs being a “genocide.”

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.