The Uighurs, Allies, and China

Since 2017, China has clamped down on the Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group living in the Xinjiang region of China. Beijing justifies such actions as concerns about terrorism, extremism, and the Uighur independence movement. In what many in the United States and Europe have labeled as genocide, China rejects the notion that that the Uighurs are subject to any human rights abuses.

However, estimates predict that more than 1 million Uighurs were detained in Chinese re-education camps. Some former Uighur detainees reported that, during their time in detention, they were forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and to be loyal to the Chinese Communist Party. Others have shared that China is using torture as well as “forced sterilization…and family separations to destroy Uighur identity.” These unspeakable state-sanctioned actions certainly constitute genocide.

The U.S. and Its Allies Act

On March 22, in response to the genocidal conditions that the Uighur ethnic group and others are suffering at the hands of the Chinese government in the Xinjiang province, the United States, in concert some of its closest allies – the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada – imposed sanctions on China for its human right violations. What is the significance about the United States and its allies’ recent imposition of sanctions against China? It fits in neatly with what President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. announced as the fundamental features of his administration’s foreign policy..

On February 4, Biden delivered the first foreign policy speech of his new presidency. In this speech, Biden spoke of several themes that would guide his foreign policy, including placing re-establishing diplomacy at the core of U.S. foreign policy, restoring American leadership, repairing U.S. alliances, and returning to multilateralism. The imposition of sanctions on China for its human right abuses against the Uighurs embodies almost every facet of Biden’s vision for his foreign policy.

Diplomacy and American Democratic Values

In his February 4 speech, Biden remarked, “America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.” He further asserted that the United States’ return to diplomacy must be “rooted in American’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.” By announcing the imposition of new sanctions against China for its human rights abuses against the Uighurs, the United States has done exactly what Biden promised: placed diplomacy at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

Imposing sanctions on China for its genocidal treatment of the Uighurs also secures Biden’s pledge that American democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy. By taking a stand against Beijing for these human right abuses, the United States is making clear not just to China, but to the world, that its foreign policy will be driven by its democratic values, including human rights, and that the United States will call out those who are violating its values.

Coordination with U.S. Allies and A Return to Multilateralism

On February 4, Biden emphatically stated that “America’s alliances are our greatest assets, and leading with diplomacy means standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and key partners once again.” After several years of angering and alienating America’s allies under the Trump administration’s America First motto, Biden noted the importance of rebuilding relationships with the United States’ key allies to counter global challenges. “We can’t do it alone,” Biden further emphasized, signaling the importance of rebuilding the United States’ alliances in order to recalibrate U.S. foreign policy.

And this is exactly what the Biden administration accomplished when coordinating with the United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union to impose sanctions on China. Not only did the United States pursue this action through diplomatic channels, but the United States also coordinated with some of its closest allies in order to address a mutual threat to their security and values. By imposing sanctions on China for its genocidal behavior toward the Uighurs, the United States capitalized on what the Biden administration recognizes as its greatest assets – its alliances – and this will only help in his quest of restoring those relationships.

The United States’ imposition of sanctions on China in concert with some of its closest, like-minded allies also indicates how important multilateralism is to the Biden administration’s foreign policy. Though the United States did not work directly through an international organization, like the United Nations, the Biden administration pursued a course of diplomacy through the imposition of sanctions, using a well-deliberated and well-orchestrated action in concert with its closest allies instead of acting impulsively, ineffectively, or unliterally. This action was the epitome of multilateral cooperation.

Conclusion

The horrendous treatment of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang province at the hands of the Chinse government is undoubtedly a massive violation of the Uighurs’ human rights. By imposing sanctions on the Chinese government in coordination with the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada, the Biden administration is fulfilling its promises of returning diplomacy and American values at the center of U.S. foreign policy, restoring American leadership, recalibrating its strained relationships with its closest allies, and resuming its commitment to multilateralism.

Secretary Blinken on U.S. Allies

Secretary Blinken testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 19 for more than four hours, answering questions from both Republican and Democratic Senators on an array of issues, specifically U.S. allies and adversaries. What policies toward U.S. allies can we expect to see over the next four years with Secretary Blinken leading the State Department?

U.S. Allies

Secretary Blinken’s approach to foreign policy centers on close cooperation and coordination with the United States’ traditional allies in Europe and Asia. The Trump administration, through its America First tactics, disparaged U.S. alliances, particularly its European allies and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and effectively alienated the United States’ closest friends and partners. In contrast to a president who often openly preferred U.S. adversaries and strongmen, Secretary Blinken promised to recalibrate U.S. relationships with its allies for “the greater good.”

U.S. Leadership

One way in which the Biden administration plans to recalibrate the United States’ relationships with its key allies is by restoring U.S. global leadership. Secretary Blinken pledged to do just that. In his testimony, the Secretary reflected on the lack of U.S. leadership during the Trump administration, observing that the United States must have both humility and confidence in its leadership. “Humility and confidence should be the flip sides of the coin,” he declared.

Acknowledging that the United States has “a great deal of work to do at home” to repair its standing in the world, humility must play a key part in the restoration of global leadership. With humility, the United States is better able to recognize the importance of close allies and partners in its quest to provide leadership. Secretary Blinken rightly pointed this out by stating that “the United States cannot address the world’s problems alone,” signaling a need for strong and cooperative allies.

The Secretary also revealed why he believes the United States must have confidence, along with humility, in its leadership. “American leadership still matters,” he told the Committee. “The reality is, the world simply does not organize itself. When we are not engaged, when we’re not leading, then one of two things is likely to happen. Either some other country tries to take our place, but not in a way that’s likely to advance our interests and values, or maybe just as bad, one does [try to lead] and then you have chaos.”

In short, U.S. leadership crucial to imposing some sort of order in the world and the United States must have confidence that it can lead. Renewed global leadership is also one of the first steps toward recalibrating relationships with its key allies.

International Institutions and Multilateralism

Another element to Secretary Blinken’s foreign policy is reengaging U.S. participation with international institutions and reemphasizing multilateralism. Secretary Blinken feels as though the United States should work closely with allies within international institutions and treaties.

In efforts to shore up and demonstrate the United States’ support for renewed participation in international institutions, President Biden rejoined the Paris climate accord on his first day in office, a move that was welcomed by its European allies. Shortly thereafter, President Biden canceled the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

Returning to a practice of multilateralism with U.S. foreign policy and working with allies within international institutions are, indeed, key to recalibrating the United States’ relationships with its allies. Relatedly, to return multilateralism to its foreign policy, the United States, under President Biden, has stated its intent on rejoining the Iran nuclear deal.  

U.S. Core Values

Part of the Biden administration’s plan to reengage in international institutions and reemphasize multilateralism is through reinstating democracy, the rule of law, and human rights back to the center of U.S. foreign policy: “Our charge is to put democracy and human right back at the center of American foreign policy” Secretary Blinken commented. These values have long been cornerstones of U.S. foreign policy, for both Democrat and Republican administrations alike. Secretary Blinken indicated that the Biden administration will continue to follow that tradition.

Fundamental to this promise is President Biden’s plan to host a global summit of democracy, a concept which Secretary Blinken wholeheartedly supports. Aiming for the summit to take place later in 2021, the Secretary shared that it would be “an opportunity for democratic countries to think about the challenges they face at home due to rising populism and other challenges, and to work on a common agenda to defend democracy, combat corruption, and more effectively stand up for human rights.” The U.S. will be able to prove its trustworthiness to its allies by reinstating its core values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights into its foreign policy.

Better Together

Moreover, Secretary Blinken shares President Biden’s belief that the United States’ allies are the most successful manner to “counter threats posed by Russia, Iran, North Korea, and to stand up for democracy and human rights.” Secretary Blinken will spend the next four years of his time as Secretary of State restoring trust with the United States’ allies, understanding that the United States must work with its allies to confront the common threats, including addressing the United States’ main adversaries.

Conclusion

Secretary Blinken and the entire Biden administration have a realistic outlook and approach to U.S. foreign policy, as he has emphasized the importance of recalibrating the United States’ relationships with its key allies in Europe and Asia by restoring U.S. global leadership, returning to a multilateral foreign policy style, reengaging in international institutions, and reinstating the United States’ core values in its foreign policy.