What should Biden do?
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free, subscribe for Friday editions and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.
Today’s read: 10 minutes.
Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. We’re skipping today’s reader question to give some appropriate space to what’s happening in China, the biggest foreign policy story of our time. We’ve also got a fascinating piece about the future of cities, some updates from yesterday’s impeachment trial, and a battle over the future of the Numbers section. Plus, a preview of tomorrow’s Friday edition (for subscribers only) which you are not going to want to miss.
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- Yesterday, House impeachment managers showed previously unseen footage of the Capitol riots, including Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) nearly running into the rioters and Vice President Mike Pence being rushed to safety. (The Washington Post, subscription)
- Prosecutors in Georgia have launched a criminal investigation into former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results. (Axios)
- New coronavirus cases continued a sharp decline over the past week, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths all plummeting (The New York Times). A new CDC guidance says no quarantine is needed for anyone who has received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine. (The Washington Post)
- Dozens of former Republican officials are in talks to form a new, anti-Trump third party (Reuters). Meanwhile, the never-Trump Lincoln Project is under fire for ignoring harassment allegations against one of its leaders. (Associated Press)
- California Gov. Gavin Newsom, once thought to have a future in the White House, is now facing a growing movement to recall his election and remove him from office. (Politico)
- BONUS: Nancy Pelosi says the coronavirus relief bill the House will send to the Senate will include a $15 minimum wage. (Jake Sherman)
What D.C. is talking about
China. More specifically, what Joe Biden’s engagement plan is. Last night, President Biden spoke to President Xi Jinping for the first time since the election. The conversation was reportedly frosty, with Biden raising concerns about China’s human rights violations. He also offered to “cooperate on global priorities of mutual interest,” according to a summary of the call released by the White House. A quick primer on the biggest issues:
Xinjiang: This is the most volatile story in China right now. Before former President Trump left office, his administration declared that China had committed genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, a desert and mountainous region in northwest China where many ethnic minorities and Muslims live. For the last several years, reporters across the world have documented the Chinese government’s systematic rounding up and detention of Muslims.
China insists that these “camps” are “vocational,” and exist to help stamp out extremism amongst the Uighur population. It has even claimed that detainees were set free. But satellite image evidence, firsthand accounts, investigative reporting, and a recent BBC article tell a different story: not only have more than a million Muslims been detained, but many are also being tortured, raped or killed. There have been reports of forced labor, shock therapy, and women being sterilized as well.
Hong Kong: Since 1997, Hong Kong and China have operated under a “one country, two systems” rule of law. Hong Kong has embraced a democratic political system, capitalism, and has seen its own trade and political system thrive with freedom from the Chinese state. Over the last two years, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have been fighting off mainland China’s encroaching power. In June, a new security law was passed without Hong Kong’s approval that gave China the authority to crush dissent and curtail freedom of speech.
Things have gotten worse recently. An estimated one million Hong Kongers are fleeing the territory (its total population was 7.5 million) to emigrate elsewhere. Jimmy Lai, the pro-democracy media tycoon who ran the Apple Daily newspaper, is in jail on trumped-up charges. So is Wu Chi-wai, a politician and former leader of an opposition party. 55 more activists and ex-lawmakers were arrested for “foreign collusion” in January, in one of the most shocking round-ups in Hong Kong yet.
Taiwan: China sees Taiwan as a rebellious province that broke away from its central rule. Taiwan is enjoying a form of independence. Like Hong Kong, Taiwan was offered a “one country, two systems rule” arrangement in the 1980s, but rejected it. Since the early 2000s, Taiwanese leaders have taken different approaches to China: some moved toward total independence while others moved toward strengthening economic relations with mainland China. Tsai Ing-wen, the current Taiwanese leader, wants to move toward independence. Taiwan is concerned that what is unfolding in Hong Kong is coming to them next, and has good reason to believe that.
COVID-19, trade, Trump, ex-pats: Complicating all these issues is the coronavirus, which scientists believe originated in Wuhan. Chinese authorities covered up the dangers of the virus and failed to properly alert global health officials of the threat. Now, outside scientists are still trying to get to the bottom of how coronavirus started — while global leaders want to hold China accountable somehow.
There’s also trade to consider: the “Made in China” stamp on all those things you own is no insignificant matter. The U.S. has deep economic ties to China, and China is strengthening its ties to our European allies as well. It has also expanded economic relations in southeast Asia and military operations in the South China Sea.
Finally, it seems worth noting, 1.39 billion people live in China. Many of them are living normal, familiar lives. And hundreds of thousands of them are American expats living, studying and working abroad. While the Chinese government executes its crackdown in places like Hong Kong or continues its detention of Muslims in Xinjiang, it’s worth remembering that for many Chinese citizens life is (post-coronavirus) getting back to normal.
In sum: there’s a lot going on here. All of which is worth considering as we focus on how the U.S. should handle its relationship with China going forward. Today’s main focus, though, is the human rights crisis in Xinjiang.
There’s quite a bit of common ground on the issue of China. While Republicans are generally considered more “hawkish,” and have made a tough stance on China core to their political philosophy, China’s human rights violations have inspired bipartisan condemnation.
What the right is saying.
The right wants Biden to take a hard line on China and is hoping he doesn’t fall into the trap of leaning on international organizations, which have failed in the past.
The Washington Examiner editorial board panned Biden for returning America to the United Nations Human Rights Council, saying that the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has a moral compass that “starts to malfunction as soon as the subject arises of China's genocide against the Uighur peoples of Xinjiang province.”
“Bensouda turns a blind eye to the most egregious breaches of international humanitarian law anywhere on Earth and disregards her own precedent to do so,” they wrote. “This was exposed in December, when Bensouda sought to explain her decision not to exert ICC (International Criminal Court) authority over China's abuses of Uighurs. She had claimed in an earlier ruling that the ICC had the authority to investigate Myanmar's mistreatment of its Rohingya ethnic minority, even though Myanmar is not an ICC signatory. This is because, she asserted, elements of Myanmar's criminality occurred in the form of Rohingya refugees on Bangladeshi soil. Because Bangladesh is an ICC signatory, a legal cause of action against Myanmar could be established.
“But in December, she responded to a legal petition by Uighurs extirpated from Tajikistan to China,” they wrote. “The filers sought to hold Bensouda to her own precedent, and they should have succeeded, but Bensouda claimed that there was insufficient evidence to investigate China. She is a fraud and a liar. More than 2 million innocent Uighurs have been imprisoned, forcibly sterilized, used as slave labor, sold for rape, murdered, and had their identity systematically shredded. Bensouda refuses to see any of this. In contrast, facing democracies, Bensouda rushes to the ramparts… The Biden administration should not tolerate such outrageous absurdity from the ICC and the U.N. Human Rights Council. To do so undermines the credibility of serious multilateral ventures and reinforces the idea that America is the dupe of international institutions.”
In a January op-ed, Olivia Enos wrote that the “Trump administration took several important steps” like sanctioning Chinese Communist Party leaders and other entities responsible for carrying out human rights violations.
“The administration has also prioritized stopping goods produced with forced labor in Xinjiang from entering the U.S. market,” she wrote. “Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection expanded its withhold release orders to all cotton and tomatoes produced in Xinjiang, effectively banning them from U.S. markets. Next steps can and should include extending priority-2 refugee status to Uighurs, continuing to combat and upping the ante on efforts to combat forced labor, and identifying additional individuals and entities in the Chinese Communist Party ripe for sanctioning.”
What the left is saying.
The left is also calling for a tough stance against China, though it has more faith in the international institutions to carry out any punishments than the right.
The Washington Post editorial board says the latest BBC report makes the record of Chinese atrocities in Xinjiang “a lot worse.”
“Initial accounts of the prison-like camps in the Xinjiang region where China has detained 1 million or more ethnic Uighurs described how the inmates were forced to renounce Muslim customs, memorize propaganda songs and learn Chinese,” the board wrote. “Then more troubling stories reached the West — of beatings, sterilizations of women and forced labor. Now, the BBC has produced a shocking new report about the systematic rape and torture of women in the camps, based on on-the-record accounts of survivors. The reported atrocities underline the need for a coordinated international response to what the United States has rightly called a campaign of genocide.
“International reaction to this attempt to effectively wipe out an ethnic minority has been slowly growing but still falls well short of what it should be,” the board said. “In its final days, the Trump administration declared that the regime of Xi Jinping was committing genocide, and it banned some imports from Xinjiang. The Biden administration’s new secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said that he agrees with the genocide designation. The European Union has offered little more than rhetoric — and some Muslim states have remained silent. They ought to be joining the United States in demanding investigations by the United Nations of the alleged rapes, torture and other abuses.”
In The Los Angeles Times, Minky Worden pointed to the 2022 Winter Olympics — set to be held in Beijing — as an opportunity already under way to force China’s hand.
“Last week, a resolution was introduced in the U.S. Senate calling on the IOC to take the 2022 Games away from China unless the country ‘addresses its egregious and numerous violations of human rights,’” she wrote. “More than 180 human rights organizations have also called for a boycott of the Games, and for the first time since the 1980s, European countries are considering pulling out of an Olympics.
“The IOC often says the Olympics are ‘a force for good,’ but in the nearly six years since the Winter Olympics were awarded to China, Chinese officials have only escalated their abuses across the country,” Worden wrote. “The Chinese government has dismantled nascent civil society groups, targeted labor rights activists, deepened repression of Xinjiang and Tibet and taken apart fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong… There’s so much more the IOC could be doing if it truly wants to be a ‘force for good’ in China. Although Beijing was awarded the Winter Olympics before the new human rights language was adopted, ‘operational requirements’ included in the host city contract since then allow the IOC to negotiate for human rights protections and standards with Beijing.
“Using this leverage, the IOC should immediately conduct effective due diligence to prevent human rights abuses that may be directly linked to the Olympics, its products or services.”
What can we say? A global power is systematically torturing, raping, sterilizing, brainwashing and killing its own citizens for the crime of having a religion. The entire world is watching, and nobody has done anything. The United Nations’ Human Rights Council is toothless and hypocritical, carving out time every year to condemn Israel for its treatment of Palestinians but incapable of adopting a single resolution to wield its influence on China. The only conclusion to draw is that the Trump administration was right: China holds far too much power over the global organizations that are supposed to be acting as impartial referees.
At the same time, Trump’s oscillating praise for Xi, with intermittent tough talk in an effort to land a trade deal, got us nothing. The Trump administration had no consistent diplomacy and after four years of chest thumping on China, look where we are: China has deepened its trade relationships throughout Asia and Europe with two significant trade deals, regained its militarized control over Hong Kong, expanded its reach in the South China sea, and brazenly built concentration camps for over a million of its own citizens. The Trump administration’s final months saw the kinds of sanctions and crackdowns we needed more of, but it came after three years of Trump alternately heaping praise and leveling tariffs on China in an effort to land a trade deal he never got.
And Biden’s historical record is not much better. Lest we forget, Xi came to power in 2013. Biden and Xi were counterparts at the time — both the No. 2’s in their respective countries, and Biden has said he spent more time with Xi than any other world leader. One might think that much time in diplomacy would result in Xi being a more moderate, U.S.-friendly leader. Instead, when Xi took power at the beginning of Obama’s second term, he immediately instituted a political crackdown, then began expanding China’s power and its abhorrent human rights violations, continuing to the present day. Now, coming full circle, Biden himself has risen to the presidency and has suddenly become our hope to step back in and fix it.
It’s tough to put into words how nauseating this whole thing is, primarily because I have no idea how we get out of it. Perhaps our inability to rein China in is proof that it's the real number one global power already. These are the kinds of issues that make me glad I’m not the president.
But I do know that — as a moral imperative and given our position as the purported most powerful nation on earth — it’s unacceptable to allow what’s happening to go on. Yes, we should force the UN’s Human Rights Council to do its job. Yes, we should pressure the IOC to pull the Olympics from Beijing (an event that will only enhance its image amidst its worst human rights violations yet). Yes, we should sanction every CCP leader possible. Yes, we should do our best to damage China economically.
Short of an actual shooting war, we should throw the kitchen sink at the Chinese government. What other option is there? There’s no alternative, from a moral perspective, and there shouldn’t be. Biden’s diplomats are still figuring out the passwords to their government computers, and there’s a long way to go before we know how his administration will address this. But there’s little doubt it will be the single biggest foreign policy story of the next four years.
As part of a partnership with Ground News, an app and website that tracks the political bias in news reporting, I feature parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you the stories that were undercovered by left-leaning or right-leaning news outlets.
The right missed a story about Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg launching a pillow company to compete with Mike Lindell’s MyPillow.
The left missed a story about Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee introducing a bill that would create a national firearm registry.
Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.
A story that matters.
Cities across the U.S. are moving to replace their legacy street lights with smart LED bulbs and lamp posts that can monitor air quality, announce an open parking spot or tell you about an incoming rainstorm. Replacing traditional street lights, which use high energy halogen bulbs, has been a major priority for cities going green. The LED bulbs use far less energy and last longer. And now, the opportunity to replace those street lights is also opening the door for futuristic tech that could help revolutionize cities. After years of empty hype around these kinds of innovations, street lights are becoming a go-to target for “smart cities.” Axios’s Jennifer Kingson has the story.
Number of the day.
11%. That’s the percentage of Republicans who approve of Joe Biden. In 2009, Barack Obama had a 43% approval rating among Republicans, meaning Biden has one-fourth the support at the same point in his presidency. As the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel put it, “the partisan gap is absolutely insane.” Despite that, Biden’s overall approval rating is higher at this point than it was for Trump, and higher than Trump’s approval rating was at any time during his presidency, largely because he’s doing 21 points better amongst independents. The data is from the latest Gallup poll.
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Have a nice day.
When Alex Trebek died in November, his son had a great idea: he wanted to pass on his father’s extensive wardrobe to people who needed it. So Matthew Trebek thought of The Doe Fund, an organization in New York City that houses, employs and offers educational support to formerly incarcerated men or people who are homeless and struggling with addiction. The job-first program has helped reduce recidivism rates for its members, and now some of them will be sporting Alex Trebek’s clothes for their next job interview. (CNN)