Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s pick for U.N. ambassador, calls 2019 China speech ‘a huge mistake.’

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s pick for U.N. ambassador, calls 2019 China speech ‘a huge mistake.’

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Wednesday called for America’s muscular return to the multilateral body to counter the rise of China during her confirmation hearing, while facing tough questions for her decision to deliver a speech two years ago at an institute that some have described as disseminating Chinese propaganda.

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield gave the remarks in October 2019 at Savannah State University’s Confucius Institute, which has since closed. It was one of dozens of such entities around the country that offer Chinese-language classes, an operation that has drawn concerns about whether the Chinese Communist Party was using the centers to disseminate Chinese government propaganda on U.S. campuses.

A number of Republican lawmakers sharply criticized Ms. Thomas-Greenfield’s speech to the institute as being overly optimistic about China’s relationship with African countries while not being tough enough on Beijing’s human rights record.

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said she had made a “huge mistake” speaking at a Confucius Institute, and that it did not constitute an accurate portrayal of her views on China.

“I do regret that speech,” Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said. “But if you look at what I have done prior to that, there is no question that I am not at all naïve about what the Chinese are doing and I have called them out on a regular basis, including today.” Lawmakers’ concerns about the speech was earlier reported by The Washington Post.

During her hearing, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield made sharp remarks about China’s human rights record, and said that the State Department was “reviewing” a determination made by the Trump administration declaring that the Chinese government was committing genocide and crimes against humanity through its repression of Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in its northwestern region of Xinjiang, because “all of the procedures were not followed.”

She said that the situation in China was “horrific” and noted that she had “lived through, and experienced, and witnessed a genocide in Rwanda.” The situation in China, she said, “feels like that.”

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield told the senators that if she was confirmed, the United States would become a more active presence at the United Nations, which saw diminished participation from the United States under President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” policy. A more prominent U.S. role, she said, would help stem China’s diplomatic advances on the global stage.

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination has been praised by veteran diplomats, who said her 35 years of experience as a foreign service officer would help rebuild America’s standing at the United Nations.

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield entered the foreign service in 1982 and held a range of senior positions in the State Department. She served as U.S. ambassador to Liberia from 2008 to 2012 before moving on to become the director general of the foreign service for about a year. From 2013 to 2017, she served as the top U.S. diplomat for African affairs. In 2017, she was among a parade of diplomats who were pushed out of the department by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.

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