Nicholas Burns told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday that the US will challenge China where it must, including when Beijing takes actions that run counter to America’s values and interests; threaten the security of the United States or its allies and partners; or undermine the rules-based international order.
“Beijing has been an aggressor against India along their Himalayan border; against Vietnam, the Philippines, and others in the South China Sea; against Japan in the East China Sea; and has launched an intimidation campaign against Australia and Lithuania,” Burns said.
China claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims.
Beijing is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. It has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region. Both areas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are also vital to global trade.
Burns said that the “Chinese genocide in Xinjiang and abuses in Tibet, its smothering of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, and its bullying of Taiwan are unjust, and must stop”.
Beijing’s recent actions against Taiwan are especially objectionable and the US is right to continue to adhere to its one-China policy, he said.
“We are also right to support the peaceful resolution of disputes, and to oppose unilateral actions that undermine the status quo and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state – but China views the self-ruled island as a breakaway province. Beijing has not ruled out the possible use of force to achieve unification.
Burns told lawmakers that the US will compete and compete vigorously with China where it should, including on jobs and the economy, critical infrastructure and emerging technologies.
It will cooperate with China where it is in its interest, including on climate change, counternarcotics, global health and non-proliferation, he told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
China, he said, seeks to become the most powerful military, economic, and political actor in the Indo Pacific.
“We must stand with our allies and partners to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific, including by maintaining America’s commercial and military superiority in 21st century technologies.
“We also must hold the PRC (People’s Republic of China) accountable for failing to play by the rules on trade and investment, including its thefts of intellectual property, use of state subsidies, dumping of goods and unfair labour practices.
“These actions harm American workers and businesses,” Burns added.
The border standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries erupted on May 5 last year following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry.
As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process in the Gogra area in August and in the north and south banks of the Pangong lake in February.
Each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the sensitive sector.