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Rubio Questions Thomas-Greenfield During Senate Foreign Relations Nominations Hearing
Washington, D.C. — During a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Nominations Hearing, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Rubio raised his concerns about a paid speech given by Thomas-Greenfield at a Confucius Institute in late October 2019 at Savannah State University where she praised China’s role in Africa, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and said China was in a “unique position” to spread “ideals,” referring to good governance and the rule of law, across the continent.
Rubio is Cochair of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee that oversees human rights, and is a member of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.
Video of Rubio’s remarks can be found here and a full transcript of Senator Rubio’s remarks are below.
Rubio: Ambassador, thank you for being here and thanks for your willingness to serve our country again. I hope we’re not going to belabor the point that other members may have questions. But I do think it’s important to explore the speech a little further from October 2019. And I’ve heard both your statement here today and also the statement from a spokesperson for President Biden about how you regret accepting the invitation in addition to what you witnessed in terms of the predatory behavior when you went down to speak.
I am, however, and I hope you can address this, a bit puzzled. You had, prior to accepting the speech, you had a 35-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service so, certainly, the Confucius Institute was not something you were unaware of its existence. Going back to 2014, the Association of University Professors had issued a statement expressing deep concern about the Confucius Institute as a threat to academic freedom, that they advocated China state agenda in their recruitment and control of staff, their choice of curriculum, and so forth. In 2018, I believe it was in response to a question from me on a Global Threats Hearing, FBI Director Wray announced the FBI had concerns about the Confucius Institute. So, the Confucius Institute, and what they’re doing in the U.S., is an element of soft power and or influence. It’s not only well documented, but also, I would imagine that in the 35 years of service to our country, it’s something you had to have been aware of. Were you not aware of who the Confucius Institute was and the concerns about them when you accepted that speech?
Thomas-Greenfield: Senator, I am not naive about China’s malign influence and I know very well the activities of the Confucius Institute. I did accept an invitation to speak at Savannah. I had spoken there many times before. I spoke at their commencement address in 2014. I had done a recruitment trip there when I was Director General of the Foreign Service. So I accepted the invitation as a response to the University. What I was surprised about, not the Confucius institute, what I was surprised about when I got there is that they had activities that went into our high schools and into our elementary schools. That I was not aware of. I did read Senator Portman’s report on the impact on education and I saw reference to that in the report, but I had never seen it in person in the United states. I had seen it in Africa for sure. And, as I have said, I truly regret having accepted that invitation and having had my name associated with the Confucius Institute.
Rubio: If I could, you’ll correct me. Is it fair to characterize it as follows, and that is: you accepted the speech as a favor to an institution that you have a long history of interacting with as opposed to a direct invitation from the Confucius Institute, per se.
Thomas-Greenfield: That’s exactly the truth. And I work very, very committedly to get out the message about Foreign Affairs careers across historical black colleges and universities, as well as Hispanic universities because I strongly believe that our Foreign Service should be representative of America and Savannah gave me the opportunity to do that. And, again, the fact that this was associated with the Confucius Institute was truly a huge mistake on my part. But it was not done as part of a Confucius Institute program. It was done so that I could continue my commitment to engage with historical black colleges and universities.
Rubio: Were you paid to give that speech?
Thomas-Greenfield: I was paid an honorarium by the University. It was an academic honorarium for my engagements with students.
Rubio: May I ask, do you consider what’s happening with Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang what the Communist Party of China is doing there, do you believe they’re guilty of genocide?
Thomas-Greenfield: What they’re doing there has been referred as genocide and I know that the State Department is reviewing that as we speak. What they’re doing is horrific and I look forward to seeing the results of the review that is being done, but certainly.
Rubio: The State Department issued a designation, I believe, on the President’s last day. So, it’s your understanding that it is now being reviewed by the State Department to see if that is appropriate.
Thomas-Greenfield: I think the State Department is reviewing that now because all of the procedures were not followed and I think they’re looking to make sure they are followed to ensure that that designation is held.
Rubio: Okay. Thank you.