TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — President Joe Biden drew criticism from conservatives for seeming to justify China's repressive actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and aggression towards Taiwan as a question of culture and "different norms."
During a CNN town hall special on Tuesday evening (Feb. 16), host Anderson Cooper asked whether Biden had touched on China's human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong during his recent two-hour phone call with Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping (習近平). Biden started out by saying, "We must speak up for human rights," but then began delivering a lesson on Chinese history that appeared to justify Beijing's authoritarian governance.
Citing China's need to redress past humiliation at the hands of foreign powers and appearing to convey the country's need to strengthen itself amid international pressure today, Biden said, “If you know anything about Chinese history, the time when China has been victimized by the outer world is when they haven’t been unified at home.” Biden then seemed to justify Xi's strongman tactics by explaining that "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.”
Biden said he had countered Xi in the call by saying American presidents must "reflect the values of the United States." He insisted that he would speak out against what China is doing in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and its aggression toward Taiwan, adding that "[Xi] gets it."
Biden then made the cultural relativist argument that "Culturally, there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow." Cooper pressed Biden further by asking, "Is that as far as it goes in terms of the U.S., or [are] there any actual repercussions for China?"
Biden responded, "Well, there will be repercussions for China, and he knows that." The president pledged that the U.S. will reassert its role as "a spokesperson for human rights at the UN and other agencies."
He further stated that "China is trying very hard to become a world leader, and to get that moniker and be able to do that, they have to gain the confidence of other countries." Biden remarked that it will be difficult for China to become a leader "as long as they are engaged in activity that is contrary to basic human rights."
Conservatives quickly pounced on Biden's use of cultural relativism. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on Wednesday evening (Feb. 17) took to Twitter to write, "Biden is minimizing the genocide of Uyghur Muslims as 'China having different cultural norms.'"
Former Republican Party Spokesman Steve Guest on Tuesday described Biden's apparent justification of human rights violations based on cultural norms as "shameful." Right-wing Twitter personality Jack Posobiec cited Biden's quote about different cultural norms and posted a video showing Uighur children who had been forcefully separated from their parents singing "My mother is China. We love our mother. We love China."
Joe Biden on China’s human rights violations and genocide against the Uighurs: “culturally there are different norms”— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) February 17, 2021
"Culturally, there are different norms" https://t.co/UBVhncpzqI— Jack Posobiec