Top Republicans ask Biden for tougher response to China sanctions on Trump officials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Biden administration faced pressure from Republican lawmakers on its second day in office for a more forceful response to Beijing's announcement of sanctions against the architects of former President Donald Trump's tough China policy.

As Democrat Joe Biden was sworn in as president on Wednesday, China announced sanctions against outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and 27 other Trump officials in a striking repudiation of its relationship with the previous U.S. administration.

The Biden administration, which is seeking Republican support for a policy to "out-compete" China, responded by calling the move "unproductive and cynical" and urged Americans from both parties to condemn it. China, by making the announcement on Inauguration Day, appeared to be attempting to play into U.S. divisions, it said.

Jim Risch, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said on Twitter that Beijing was "already testing the Biden Admin's resolve to continue a tougher, competitive approach towards #China."

"Together, Republicans & Democrats must show Beijing we will not be deterred from defending U.S. interests."

Michael McCaul, the leading Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said the sanctions were "a brazen and baseless attempt to silence and intimidate officials that hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for genocide and its takeover of Hong Kong."

Beijing announced its sanctions after Pompeo, who unleashed a barrage of measures against China in his final weeks in office, declared on Tuesday that China had committed "genocide and crimes against humanity" against Uighur Muslims.

Just before it did so, Beijing also said it wanted to cooperate with the Biden administration, even after Biden's choice to succeed Pompeo, Antony Blinken, said he agreed with his assessment.

A Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee staffer said responses could include counter-sanctions or tightening of existing measures, adding: "This latest move was a serious escalation."

The Biden administration, which is still setting up its full Asia policy and other government teams, did not immediately reply when asked if it planned a response.

Beijing's sanctions ban the 28 officials and immediate family members from entering China and they and any companies or organizations associated with them from having dealings there.

China has repeatedly rejected accusations of abuse in Xinjiang, where a United Nations panel has said at least one million Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in camps.

Blinken told his Senate confirmation hearing China posed the most significant challenge to the United States of any nation, and that he believed there was a very strong foundation to build a bipartisan policy to stand up to Beijing.

Some Republicans and others are concerned Biden may soften Trump's hardline approach to secure cooperation on other goals, including combating climate change and North Korea.

Scott Kennedy, of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, called the threat to organizations who may work with those sanctioned "extremely troubling."

"China doesn’t have any right to tell any American individual or organization who they can or can’t interact with," Kennedy said.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina; editing by Grant McCool)

01/21/2021 21:42

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