Biden Ambassador Nominees to China, Japan Stress Need for Allies

Biden Ambassador Nominees to China, Japan Stress Need for Allies

Nicholas Burns and Rahm Emanuel emphasized the U.S. commitment to the Indo-Pacific region at a Senate hearing

President Biden’s nominees to serve as the U.S. ambassadors to China and Japan said strengthening American alliances is critical to countering Beijing’s regional and global ambitions.

Nicholas Burns, a veteran diplomat nominated to be ambassador to Beijing, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that China poses the greatest threat to U.S. security and to democracy world-wide. The U.S. and its allies, he said, must “uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific, including by maintaining America’s commercial and military superiority in 21st-century technologies.”

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the president’s pick for ambassador to Tokyo, said allies, particularly Japan, know that “the United States doubling down on its commitments in the Indo-Pacific area makes them more secure, makes the region more safe and open.”

Wednesday’s confirmation hearing was the first since Messrs. Burns and Emanuel were formally nominated in August. The committee next will vote on whether to advance the nominations for confirmation by the full Senate.

Mr. Emanuel’s nomination has run into headwinds with some progressive activists and House lawmakers criticizing his handling as Chicago mayor of the police killing of teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014. The officer was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting and sentenced to six years, nine months in prison.

Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) invited Mr. Emanuel to comment on the case, and he faced pointed questions from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.). Mr. Emanuel described the investigation and his own accountability, and he cited findings by the city’s inspector general and a special prosecutor that there was no wrongdoing on his part.

“In the first term of my tenure, I made a number of changes that dealt with oversight and accountability. It is clear to me, those changes were inadequate to the level of distrust. They were at best marginal,” Mr. Emanuel said.

The ambassador posts are critical positions as the Biden administration engages in a global rivalry with China, which has pursued more assertive foreign and military policies, putting pressure on U.S. partners like Taiwan and testing in August a hypersonic missile.

Japan is a linchpin in the alliance system the Biden administration wants to mobilize against Beijing. The Senate committee also questioned Jonathan Kaplan, an entrepreneur nominated to be ambassador to Singapore, a vibrant financial center and a defense partner.

Mr. Burns, who in the past served as undersecretary of State for political affairs and ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, told lawmakers that the U.S. should be concerned about China’s nuclear buildup. Mr. Burns said of the Chinese government, “They don’t believe that they should be constrained in any way, shape or form by arms control.”

On trade, Mr. Burns said the U.S. must hold the Chinese government accountable for its practices that harm American workers and companies, including “theft of intellectual property, use of state subsidies, dumping of goods and unfair labor practices.”

Senators several times questioned him about the Biden administration’s commitment to Taiwan and whether Washington should jettison its longstanding position of strategic ambiguity to not explicitly state whether and how the U.S. would respond to a possible attack by Beijing on the island. Mr. Burns said the U.S. could strengthen its commitments to Taiwan within existing agreements and cited proposed sales of advanced howitzer systems to Taipei.

Despite these differences, Mr. Burns supported the Biden administration’s approach to also try to work with China to address issues like climate change. “We have to engage China, and seek cooperation, if it’s possible,” he said.

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