Biden UN pick pledges toughness on China, regrets speech

Former US president Donald Trump pushed for the closure of all Confucius Institutes, saying they amounted to propaganda organs
Last Updated 27 January 2021, 18:51 IST

President Joe Biden's pick as US ambassador to the United Nations promised Wednesday to fight China's global influence as she voiced regret over delivering a speech to an institute funded by Beijing.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a former career diplomat, told her confirmation hearing that the United States should pay back dues to the United Nations -- history's "greatest peace organization" -- and not let other powers fill a void.

"In particular, we know China is working across the UN system to drive an authoritarian agenda that stands in opposition to the founding values of the institution -- American values," she said.

"Their success depends on our continued withdrawal. That will not happen on my watch," she said.

Thomas-Greenfield came under questioning over a speech she delivered in 2019, while she was in the private sector, at Savannah State University's Confucius Institute -- one of Beijing's overseas language and cultural centers.

Former president Donald Trump pushed for the closure of all Confucius Institutes, saying they amounted to propaganda organs.

Thomas-Greenfield said she gave the speech out of esteem for the university, a historically Black institution in Georgia, and in hopes that more people of color would join the US Foreign Service -- not because of the Confucius Institute.

"Truthfully, I wish I had not accepted the specific invitation. And I came away from the experience frankly alarmed at the way the Confucius Institute was engaging with the Black community in Georgia," she said.

"It reminded me of what I'd seen in Africa -- the Chinese government going after those in need," said Thomas-Greenfield, who is African-American.

In response to Senator Chris Coons, a close ally of Biden, Thomas-Greenfield said that the United States should pay back arrears to UN operations and peacekeeping -- estimated at around $1.3 billion.

"Not paying our bills really does diminish our power, and it diminishes our leadership," she said.

"We need to pay our bills to have a seat at the table, and our leadership is needed at the table."

The Trump administration was dismissive toward many international institutions as part of its "America First" philosophy.

(Published 27 January 2021, 18:51 IST)

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