Cotton: China's 'Powerful' Sanctions on Trump Officials Are an Attempt to Intimidate Biden Officials

Patrick Goodenough | January 22, 2021 | 4:37am EST
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Then-Vice President Joe Biden addresses President Xi Jinping during a state luncheon hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, in Sept. 2015. (Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images)
Then-Vice President Joe Biden addresses President Xi Jinping during a state luncheon hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, in Sept. 2015. (Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Republican lawmakers called on the Biden administration Thursday to respond forcefully to China’s imposition of substantive sanctions on senior national security officials in the previous administration.

They view Beijing’s actions as more than a parting slap at former officials critical of the Chinese Communist Party, but also as an attempt to intimidate the new administration into adopting a softer line.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called the sanctions against the Trump administration officials “a shot across the bow of Joe Biden’s national security team” – a warning that “if you take a tough line on China, we’ll take a tough line on you, we’ll try to hurt your livelihood in the future.”

“That has to be met with a response by the Biden administration and from the Congress,” he told Fox News. “We cannot allow China to continue this campaign of lies and disinformation and intimidation.”

“By sanctioning 28 outgoing nat’l security officials, the #CCP is already testing the Biden Admin’s resolve to continue a tougher, competitive approach towards #China,” tweeted Sen. Jim Risch, the ranking member and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Together, Republicans & Democrats must show Beijing we will not be deterred from defending U.S. interests.”

The Biden administration has responded: “Americans of both parties should criticize this unproductive and cynical move,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne told Reuters. “President Biden looks forward to working with leaders in both parties to position America to out-compete China.”

Announced on the day Biden was inaugurated, the sanctions target 28 Americans who oversaw China policy in the previous administration, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former White House trade advisor Peter Navarro, former National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and his predecessor John Bolton, former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused them of having “planned, promoted and executed a series of crazy moves which have gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs, undermined China’s interests, offended the Chinese people, and seriously disrupted China-U.S. relations.”

Not only are the individuals and their immediate family members prohibited from visiting China – including Hong Kong – “they and companies and institutions associated with them are also restricted from doing business with China,” Hua announced.

The latter restriction could have far-reaching implications for the future livelihoods of former government officials, Cotton observed.

“This is not just some laughing matter, saying ‘well, we can’t take our wives on a second honeymoon to Wuhan.’ No, the Chinese Communist Party said they would target any institution or company with which these officials are affiliated.”

Cotton said people leaving government often return to private companies or law firms or think tanks or universities.

“If they have any interest in China, which a vast number of American companies and universities and institutions do, that would threaten their livelihood. And those institutions may not bring them back,” he said.

Cotton said the situation underscores “the risk of the economic entanglement we’ve allowed to rise up in between our two nations over 30 years, and why we need to decouple that economic entanglement, so that China doesn’t have this kind of leverage over us.”

Think twice’

Chinese state media reports appeared to corroborate Cotton’s concerns.

“Washington’s ‘revolving door’ is well-known – senior officials will be hired by companies, NGOs, or think tanks after they leave the government,” the CCP paper Global Times reported. “China’s sanctions, like a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, will force those entities having businesses and cooperation with China to think twice whether they should develop relations with those former Trump administration officials.”

“This powerful sanction is also a warning to the officials who want to be the next Pompeo,” Lü Xiang, an expert of U.S. studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the paper.

Liang Hai Ming, chairman of the China Silk Road iValley Research Institute, told the CCP’s China Daily that any foreign company conducting business with China should not hire the people on the sanction list, as well as their family members, or those companies may face restrictions in Chinese market.”

“Under this circumstance, most companies and organizations will think twice to have ties with these 28 people, since China is the second-biggest economy in the world.”

Among others on the list of targets are former Assistant Secretary David Stilwell of the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, former Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger, former Undersecretary of State Keith Krach – who angered China with a visit to Taiwan last fall – and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon.

Invited to respond to Horne’s comment Hua told a briefing in Beijing on Thursday that the sanctions decision was a legitimate response to the officials’ “erroneous behaviors that severely violated China's sovereignty, security and development interests.”

“We hope the new U.S. administration will view China and China-U.S. relations in an objective and rational manner,” she said.


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