Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday, 8 December 2020


Senior Biden aide accuses China of ‘assault’ on freedom in Hong Kong

China has provoked an international backlash over its tough stance towards Hong Kong © AFP via Getty Images

Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

Jake Sullivan, the incoming US national security adviser, has accused China of attacking freedom in Hong Kong, in a sign that the Biden administration will take a critical stance towards Beijing over human rights and democracy.

Mr Sullivan, a former Hillary Clinton aide who will become national security adviser when Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20, said he was “deeply concerned” about the imprisonment of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

“We stand united with our allies and partners against China’s assault on Hong Kong’s freedoms — and to help those persecuted find safe haven,” Mr Sullivan wrote on Tuesday on Twitter.

The criticism comes on the heels of the imprisonment of Joshua Wong and other Hong Kong activists over their involvement in pro-democracy protests last year in the former British colony.

Beijing has this year cracked down on pro-democracy groups by bypassing the Hong Kong legislature and imposing a sweeping national security law.

President Donald Trump this week imposed sanctions on 14 senior Chinese officials over their alleged involvement in efforts to clamp down on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. China reacted angrily to the move, accusing Washington of interfering in its internal affairs.

The US and other critics have accused China of breaching the agreement that governed the 1997 return of Hong Kong from Britain to China, which said it would be run under a “one country, two systems” model for 50 years.

Some Republicans have expressed concern that the Biden administration will take a softer approach on China than Mr Trump. After three years of taking little action towards Beijing beyond trade, the president has this year taken tough actions over everything from human rights abuses in the northwestern Xinjiang region and concerns about cyber espionage.

Some Democrats have also privately questioned if Mr Biden would ease criticism of human rights-related issues in order to secure co-operation on issues such as climate change.

But his team has signalled that Mr Biden, who this year called Chinese president Xi Jinping a “thug”, will take a tough line.

Mr Sullivan has taken aim at China in two of just six comments he has posted on Twitter since being named national security adviser. The other tweet did not mention China directly by name but came amid a diplomatic spat between Canberra and Beijing. In it, Mr Sullivan said the US would “stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally Australia and rally fellow democracies to advance our shared security, prosperity and values”.

Mr Biden has not outlined in detail how he intends to deal with China, but he recently suggested in an interview with The New York Times that he was not going to rush to remove the tariffs that Mr Trump imposed on China as part of his trade war.

Congress has also moved in recent weeks to pass measures that take aim at China, including one that would force Chinese companies listed in the US to comply with US accounting standards.

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