Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Biden’s pick to be ambassador to the United Nations, pledged Wednesday to stand up to China’s “authoritarian agenda” at the U.N., — as she was grilled by lawmakers about a 2019 speech she made praising Beijing’s approach in Africa.
“We know China is working across the U.N. system to drive an authoritarian agenda that stands in opposition to the founding values of the institution — American values,” Thomas-Greenfield told lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing. “Their success depends on our continued withdrawal. That will not happen on my watch.”
Thomas-Greenfield spent much of her opening remarks urging that the U.S. should re-engage with the United Nations to prevent that Chinese dominance and to re-assert American values on the world stage.
The Trump administration pulled out of several U.N. mechanisms, including the World Health Organization, the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. Palestinian Refugee Agency. Biden has moved to reverse many of the Trump administration’s actions.
“When America shows up, when we are consistent and persistent, when we exert our influence in accordance to our value, the United Nations can be an indispensable institution for advancing peace, security and our collective well-being,” she said. “If instead we walk away from the table, and allow others to fill the void, the global community suffers — and so do American interests.”
But the tougher talk on China from Thomas-Greenfield came amid questions about a 2019 speech she gave on “China-U.S.-Africa Relationships” at the Savannah State University Confucius Institute’s fifth-anniversary lecture event.
The Trump administration had been targeting the Confucius Institutes — public educational partnerships between colleges and universities in China and schools in other countries — and last year designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center (CIUS) as a Chinese foreign mission.
The speech, excerpts of which were reported by The Washington Post, called Chinese intervention in Africa a “win-win-win situation” in which the communist regime and the U.S. could promote good governance, gender equity and the rule of law.
“I see no reason why China cannot share in those values,” she said. “In fact, China is in a unique position to spread these ideals given its strong footprint on the continent.”
She was asked about the speech by both Democrats and Republicans and expressed regret for the words. She said she now supports efforts to crack down on the Confucius Institute.
“Truthfully I wish I had not accepted this 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.
In response to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who accused her of “cheerleading for the Chinese Communist Party” and for making no mention of China’s human rights violations against religious minorities in the speech, Thomas-Greenfield denied that she was cheerleading for Beijing.
“It was not my intention, nor do I think that I cheered on the Chinese Communist Party,” she said. “I do regret that speech — one speech in a 35-year career.”
Engagement with the U.N. is likely to play a more prominent role in U.S. foreign policy under President Biden. Notably, he made the role of U.N. ambassador has been made a Cabinet-level position. It had been such when former Ambassador Nikki Haley held it, but it was downgraded when she was replaced by former Ambassador Kelly Craft.
Biden wrote last week to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to give notice that the U.S. would no longer be withdrawing from the World Health Organization. He has also recommitted the U.S. to the Paris climate agreement.
Fox News’ Ben Evansky and The Associated Press contributed to this report.