WASHINGTON— During an exchange today with the nominee to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) highlighted China’s clear ambition to replace the United States as the global power and stressed the importance of strengthening cooperation with our partners and allies in combatting China. Romney’s line of questioning also focused on ways in which the United States can address China’s growing aggression and strategies for dissuading China from its predatory path.
Senator Romney’s exchange with Ambassador Burns can be found below and video can be found here.
Senator Romney: It’s good to see you, Ambassador, and very deeply appreciate your willingness to serve, once again, your country at a critical time. We all know China’s ambition. They’ve described what it is. They seek to replace us as the global leader. The prospect of a global order led by China is one which is troubling for many reasons. We can see what that might look like based upon what they’re doing even now—censoring their media, blacking out social media in their country, stealing intellectual property from us and from others, reneging on treaties and promises they’ve made, repressing religion and people of faith, monitoring their own citizens and assigning social grades based upon their loyalty to the communist regime, oppressing minorities of all kinds and of course committing genocide. We say that quickly, but genocide—eliminating a people, enslaving a people, as they are—all these things suggest that a global order led by China would be something which the world could not possibly endure. There was probably a time, a decade or so ago, when if you were the Ambassador to China, you could go in and pound your fist on the table and they would take note and perhaps change course on some of the things we care most about because they’re worried about their access to the U.S. market. Is that true today, can we sort of tell China what to do and will they respond, or are we no longer in that position?
Ambassador Burns: Senator, thank you, and I appreciated the conversation we had in your office two weeks ago about all these issues. I think our relationship is fundamentally different now than it was ten years ago or 20 years ago, and I’ve spoken to most of the former American ambassadors about this, and we’re in an entirely new age where we’ve got to have channels of communication to work with the Chinese. First of all, we want to mitigate the danger of an accidental conflict. We want to maintain the peace. But we also want to have clear messaging, and I think multiple channels make sense. If confirmed, I’ll be on point for the country and the government in Beijing, talking directly to the Chinese. I think it’s very important for members to travel there, members of Congress and ultimately, most important, for the President to have direct conversations as he is seeking to do. He’s had phone conversations with President Xi Jinping, but these are difficult conversations. And you’ve seen the aggressiveness of the Chinese officials. You’ve seen the nationalism. You’ve seen the wolf warrior diplomacy. It’s part of the fabric of what we’re dealing with now. And my final point, Senator, would be to say, we’re a strong country. We should be confident of our values and our interests, and we can stand up to the Chinese. But our allies and partners can help to do that so that there’s real weight and leverage. And I do think that’s the focus.
Romney: What is your sense of the commitment of our allies to that effort? We’ve spoken already this morning about NATO and our friends and allies there. Perhaps Germany is not quite as committed as, let’s say, Lithuania. But as you look at our allies, are we advancing in terms of our mutual efforts? Or is there some retreat on the part of key allies?
Burns: I don’t see retreat. Certainly I think we’re seeing a stiffening of the resolve of Japan, which is so important for us. Australia, rock solid on these issues. India, not an ally, not a treaty ally, but a strategic military partner in the Bay of Bengal and the Western Pacific, very important for us. Europe is different. There are so many countries with different views. Of course we’re waiting for the formation of the German government, so we’ll have to wait and see what the Social Democrats and the Greens do. But I would note that the Greens were very critical of China during the recent campaign in Germany. And certainly President Macron has spoken out about the dangers of China in the Indo-Pacific. And France is unique among the European powers because it is an Indo-Pacific country, as well. And so I think we’ve got to work both the North Atlantic Alliance, the European Union, but especially our Indo-Pacific allies to be successful.
Romney: There are some who look at China and say it’s a juggernaut, there’s no way to slow it down, it’s not a course that is unstoppable. Do you see it that way? Is there a way of dissuading China from a course as malevolent as what we’re seeing today? Do they have some fundamental weaknesses that the rest of the world recognizes and can get them to divert from the course they’re on?
Burns: It’s certainly a—yours is certainly a key analytical question. None of us can deny the extraordinary growth and the power of China militarily, technologically, economically, and politically over the last 30 to 40 years. But we shouldn’t exaggerate that power. I said in my statement, China has significant demographic challenges over the next few decades. It has angered nearly all the countries on its border by being overly aggressive and overly acquisitive. Think of the South China Sea and the outrageous attempts of China to run roughshod over the law of the Sea Treaty and the legal obligations China is ignoring. Think of the East China Sea and their attempt to intimidate, but they have not succeeded, our ally Japan. And think of Taiwan. And so I think the Chinese have, by being so aggressive, they’ve now stirred up a lot of opposition to them. And I think we ought not to exaggerate their strengths or underestimate the strengths of the United States. What we need is self-confidence that the United States is a strong country. And I do think our values are the strongest part of our strategy towards China.