WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks Tuesday at a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Branstad, once again welcome to our Committee. Thank you very much for your career in public service and your willingness to serve our country as the Ambassador to China. I also want to offer thanks to your family because this is a family sacrifice, and we appreciate the willingness of your family to allow your service to our country.
“You have a very distinguished background, very impressive background. A confirmation hearing gives us the opportunity to hear about your qualifications but also to view the scope and trajectory of the U.S. relationship of the country you’ve been chosen to represent the United States, to China. Indeed, as we contemplate how we address the situation in North Korea we recognize that China has a critical role to play in that regard. So, when we look at so many of the circumstances around the world, China comes into our view.
“Thirty years ago we were debating whether or not China would become a major power. That debate is now settled. But, the question of what sort of power china will be remains. Will China help to support peace and security in Asia? Or seek to overturn the order? Will China become a trade partner committed to the enforcement of international law? Or will we continue to see the flouting of international norm, as Chairman Corker mentioned? Will China open space for its citizens to express their own views and ideas? Or will it continue to brutally repress its own people? These are the questions that you will confront if confirmed.
“And while we may not yet know all the answers, I am concerned by some of what we are seeing. For example, we have seen an increasingly provocative China in the maritime domains, coercing and intimidating neighbors in both the East China Sea and South China Sea, and attempting to use the threat of military force to address territorial and regional disputes.
“And, as you and I discussed when we sat together recently, I am also deeply concerned by the deterioration of human rights in China and the environment for civil society and independent voices in that country. Yet the opposite has proven true: President Xi’s administration has adopted a slew of laws that violate the most basic human rights of the Chinese people, and that presents challenges to U.S. interests and values as well. The community of civic activists in China who thrived in 1990s and 2000s — partly as a result of U.S. engagement both diplomatically and economically — have come under assault as never before. When I joined the Subcommittee it was unthinkable that people from the U.S. and E.U. would be detained by Chinese authorities — inside and outside mainland China — yet that is our current reality.
“And all the while, we still do not know if the Dalai Lama will be allowed to return to Tibet, we do not know the whereabouts of the Panchen Lama, we do not know whether authorities will release Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo in 2020, we do not know if the people of Hong Kong will be able to continue to exercise genuine autonomy — but we do know Xi Jinping is set to remain in power for at least another five years.
“So I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on how, if confirmed, you will stand with civil society and with the Chinese people — including when it comes to labor rights, where I must say, your record as Governor in Iowa has raised some concerns — and assure that human rights and universal values are at the heart of U.S. policy with China.
“I am also interested in your thoughts on what we may see by way of cooperation with China on North Korea going forward. I understand what the President has asked of China, but I remain concerned that we’ve seen this movie before, and we really haven’t seen a change in China’s position as it relates to North Korea. Many of us are concerned that it only goes so far, that the ability of the current regime will prevent them from taking the necessary steps to change the equation in North Korea and so I welcome your thoughts on the matter.
“So let me lastly address one more issue. You will take the oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Before President Trump took the oath of office, many of us urged him to take steps to avoid a constitutional conflict with the Emolument Clause. And he is the only president who has not divested or set up a trust for his financial institutions. That is not your doing. Your doing is to represent our country if confirmed in China and you must take steps to ensure that our constitution is not violated, that the Trump enterprises are not given favors by the China regime that would violate the Emoluments Clauses. So, we are interested in learning how you intend to make sure that you defend the Constitution and protect against that particular challenge.
“I look forward to your thoughts on how to move the relationship forward, especially on human rights, and what you hope to achieve, if confirmed, as our Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to our hearing.”