Pompeo's Checkmate on China

January 20, 2021

Conservatives aren't the only ones with a wary eye on Washington today. With a new administration comes fresh uncertainty for millions of people abroad. For four years, persecuted believers of all faiths have had an ally in the White House -- a president who made it his personal mission to lift minorities out of fear and chains, to give them a voice when the rest of the world looked away. What will they have in Joe Biden? Many are scared to find out.

In the heat of the campaign, there was a common refrain from Republicans: Joe Biden is China's dream president. After years under Obama, the former vice president, who even excused the one-child policy, has never had the stomach to challenge the communist leaders. They have every reason to expect, Steven Mosher warned, "that Biden, like Obama, [will] turn a blind eye to the theft of American jobs, factories, and intellectual property..." Even more concerning, many of us worry, is that he'll turn a blind eye to something else: the greatest human rights atrocity of the modern age: the persecution of Uyghur Muslims.

Realizing this was a risk, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did something that Americans -- and the two million Uyghurs trapped and tortured in concentration camps -- will thank him for. On Tuesday, with just hours left in his chair, the State Department declared China's treatment of the Uyghurs "genocide," a designation that will be very hard for the incoming Biden administration to ignore.

It was a savvy move on Pompeo's part, since not only does the declaration make America the first country to label the crisis as much, but it also makes it impossible for the new president to sidestep the issue. "By making this move just one day before Biden is sworn into office," observers point out, "Pompeo has taken the decision out of the president-elect's hands and set the incoming administration up for a rocky start to its relations with China."

But "rocky" is how most Americans would prefer it, after a pandemic that's soured the country's opinion on China and prompted both parties to call for tougher action. FRC's Travis Weber, Vice President for Policy and Government Affairs, cheered the move, saying it leads the way for other countries to take an equally hard line. "The genocide designation is very significant, both from a moral and legal perspective," he explained on "Washington Watch," "because it will obligate and increase the pressure on the United States and others to act against China. While certainly there's been a lot of attention on China -- and we recognize that what China is doing to its minorities there is tragic -- the genocide finding [is the] most serious of international human rights violations. It adds an additional layer of weight, morally and legally, to the obligation to prevent and punish China. So it's incredibly significant, both in the respective of what this is going to obligate the Biden administration and others going forward."

The genocide designation is extremely important, as Travis said, because it triggers a new menu of options for the United States in dealings with China -- including sanctions. That puts Joe Biden, who's been a cheerleader of the communist nation for years, in a very tough position. Pompeo's move forces the new president to either overturn the designation or abide by it. Given the baggage of his son's business dealings in the country, either choice will be uncomfortable. He'll either be seen as betraying the Chinese or condoning the persecution.

Back in the Obama administration, when the president finally agreed to call the annihilation of religious minorities in the Middle East "genocide," it dramatically changed our foreign policy in that region. It has the potential to the same in China, if Joe Biden has the courage to act. Either way, the Uyghurs will know that one leader has their back -- and his name is Mike Pompeo.