Beijing wasted no time in slapping sanctions on 28 former officials of the Trump administration before expressing hope for a reset in its relationship with Biden’s America.
The Chinese government announced the measures shortly after President Joe Biden was sworn in, and just minutes before he finished his inauguration speech.
China’s foreign ministry said the former Trump officials had made “crazy moves” out of their political interests and hatred against China.
The individuals, including former Secretary of the State Mike Pomeo, former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, would be banned from entering China and doing business with the country, the statement said. The ban would apply to the Chinese special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
“It is a warning to the China hawks,” said Liu Weidong, a U.S. affairs specialist with the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “The message is ‘it’s not that we don’t have cards in our hands, so you should behave yourselves.’”
Liu said Beijing chose to announce the largely symbolic sanctions after the old administration left office because it wanted to show its willingness to start a relationship with a clean slate.
The impact of the sanctions are expected to be limited. Among those on the sanction list, only former Trump advisor Steve Bannon is known to have had business ties in Hong Kong, although the sanctions could prevent the former officials from getting jobs with companies with business interests in China.
A spokeswoman for Biden’s national security advisors said the sanctions were “unproductive and cynical” and “seemingly an attempt to play to partisan divides,” Reuters reported, quoting National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne.
Tensions between Beijing and Washington have drastically escalated over the last four years. While he had repeatedly praised Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump started a trade war that forced global companies to reduce their exposure to China. Officials in the Trump administration also angered the Chinese government by encouraging official exchanges with Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy that Beijing claims as its territory, and blaming the COVID-19 pandemic on China.
Pompeo kept up his tough rhetoric against Beijing through his final days as the U.S.’ top diplomat, declaring on Tuesday that Beijing’s repression of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang was “genocide.”
While the ruling Communist Party has strongly condemned the moves, it seems to be offering the new Biden administration a chance to make up with America’s biggest trading partner.
On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying attributed Washington’s hostile policies in the past to “a few anti-China politicians,” and said Biden’s team should bring China-U.S. relations “back on the right track.”
“I believe with both sides making efforts, the better angels will defeat the evil forces in the China-U.S. relationship,” Hua said.
While Biden is expected to return U.S. foreign policy to a multilateral approach, analysts have said a reset in the U.S.-China relations is unlikely.
Biden has said he will “confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations.” In August, the Biden campaign called Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang “genocide.” On Wednesday, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Washington attended a U.S. presidential inauguration for the first time on the Biden team’s invitation.
Biden did not mention China during his inauguration speech, although he stressed that the U.S. will repair its alliances, alluding to his promise to return the country to multilateralism to address challenges including the security threats posed by China.
At least on his first day as president, Biden avoided harsh words on China.
The new president made the first public mention of Chinese President Xi Jinping during an oath of office for his appointees.
“I was asked a long time ago when I was with Xi Jinping, and I was on the Tibetan plateau with him,” Biden recalled, referring to a conservation they had when they were both vice presidents.
“He said can you define America for me, and I said yes and I meant it. I said I can do it in one word, one word: possibilities,” he said. “We believe anything’s possible, if we set our mind to it, unlike any other country in the world.”
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