Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., argued on Sunday that sanctions against former Trump administration officials are a “dangerous” and “insidious escalation of China’s effort to influence American policy.”
China imposed sanctions Wednesday on more than two dozen former Trump administration officials, including outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, just as President Biden was sworn into office.
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“The Biden administration needs to denounce it forcefully,” Cotton told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” adding that they “need to impose reciprocal sanctions on Chinese officials.”
The latest sanctions followed years of contentious relations between top Trump officials and their counterparts in Beijing. The named U.S. officials face travel bans and business-related restrictions.
Aside from Pompeo, other officials tagged with sanctions included Trump administration trade advisor Peter Navarro, former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, current national security adviser Robert O’Brien, former national security adviser John Bolton and former Trump aide Steve Bannon.
“On Wednesday, just moments after Joe Biden took office, a couple of dozen Trump administration officials were sanctioned by China,” Cotton said, adding that “at first, one might just laugh them off.”
Cotton noted that he was sanctioned by China last summer and “he kind of laughed it off.” He went on to point out, however, that “these sanctions apply not just to these individuals, they apply to any company or institution that associates with them.”
“This is not designed so much to punish Trump administration officials for taking a tough line on China, but to send a shot across the bow to Biden administration officials,” he continued.
The Trump administration took a hardline stance toward China during the former president’s term in office. The implementation of sweeping tariffs on Chinese-made goods prompted a lengthy trade war between the U.S. and China.
The two sides reached a preliminary trade agreement just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic began. Since March, Trump regularly referred to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” and accused Beijing of covering up the severity and extent of the pandemic in its early days.
“Over the past few years, some anti-China politicians in the United States, out of their selfish political interests and prejudice and hatred against China and showing no regard for the interests of the Chinese and American people, have 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,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
On Sunday, Cotton provided examples of how the sanctions “could influence a U.S. government official’s thinking.”
“A lot of government officials are lawyers, they leave big firms, they go back to big firms, even if they have no clients with any business in China, that law firm probably does,” Cotton said as he provided one example.
“And what if China goes to one of those big corporations and threatens to cut off their access if they don’t cut off that law firm?”
“This is the kind of unspoken, insidious effect these sanctions can have on senior government officials,” he stressed. “We cannot tolerate it.”
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Biden went on to say that the Biden administration officials need to denounce the move forcefully, “impose reciprocal sanctions on Chinese officials” and find out if the Chinese ambassador was involved in it.
“If so, they need to kick him out of the country,” Cotton continued.
“We cannot tolerate China trying to influence government officials at the highest levels of American government.”
He also stressed that President Biden needs to address the sanctions directly.
Cotton acknowledged that “some of his officials have made some comments about China,” citing Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state.
In a rare agreement on foreign policy, when Blinken was asked during his nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations if he agreed with the outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration accusing the Chinese government of genocide against ethnic Uyghurs, he said, “That would be my judgment as well.”
On his last day on the job, Pompeo released determinations that China committed crimes against humanity and “genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs.”
“Forcing men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to in effect re-educate them to be adherents to the Chinese Communist Party – all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide,” Blinken said hours later.
“But what we really need to hear is from the top,” Cotton said on Sunday. “President Biden needs to condemn these sanctions. He needs to condemn the actions that China is taking against Hong Kong in the South China Sea, just recently threatening Taiwan again.”
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“It’s important that the president say that,” Cottan added, “not just the president’s spokesmen, not just his cabinet officials, but the president himself.”
Fox News’ Thomas Barrabi, Elvan Katmer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.