California Gov. Gavin Newsom is Democrats’ unofficial “candidate in waiting.” He is outspoken on every issue facing the nation, and firmly on the progressive side of the scale when he does.
Unlike President Biden, Newsom has always been on the left, so it’s a natural place for him. The national stage, however, is something different. What plays in California often does not play in Peoria.
As he ventured onto the world stage last week to meet with Chinese leaders, Newsom seems to have forgotten this. In so doing, he has stumbled in such a way as to make the Democratic establishment uneasy about its only currently viable plan B.
When dealing with China, human rights has to be on the agenda. It may not override everything else, but it must be a factor. The communist Chinese government is committing what our government recognizes as a genocide against Uyghur Muslims, which involves both concentration camps and an effort to erase their culture permanently. To ignore this while catering or kowtowing to Beijing is, for any reason, to debase oneself as a leader.
Even if business with China is a necessary evil, leaders should never forget that it is an evil. This is why lip-service to human rights is important in diplomatic terms. If you’re not willing to bring it up, you don’t meet with the people orchestrating the genocide.
Newsom met with Secretary General Xi Jinping and human rights never came up. You wouldn’t expect the man currently leading a genocide to mention it, but you would think it might occur to the man running a shadow campaign for president of the U.S. It did not.
When asked about this, Newsom had no good answer, nor even a coherent sentence, except to say that he cares about other things more — namely, climate change.
“I spent an hour with the Foreign Minister, and that was the appropriate venue on the basis of the conversations I had with the State Department under the basis of the fact that that would be a better place to communicate a more nuanced and detailed explanation of our points of view on issues of human rights and democracy, on issues related to Taiwan, issues related to international and foreign policy more broadly,” Newsom said. “And we took the limited time we had with Xi, which we were told would be just 20 minutes and we had the opportunity to extend it to 45, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to reinforce the reason I was there: not as President of the United States, not as Secretary of State, but as the Governor of one of the largest states and one of the largest economies in the world, to focus on low carbon, green growth and I didn’t want to miss that opportunity and moment to influence this foundational agenda, which is bigger than any situational agenda in our lifetime.”
If you had difficulty following that word salad, the upshot is that Newsom doesn’t really care about the Uyghur genocide in specific terms, or human rights in general. He talks a good game, when it’s helpful, but when the chips are on the table, he folds and starts dissembling about climate change. Climate change, you see, empowers and expands governments, whereas standing up to tyranny does not.
“I had an opportunity to talk about the most important issue in our lives,” he said, “the most important issue. Everything else is situational, this is the most sustainable issue. It’s changing everything….There’s no more consequential issue in the world today — long and medium term, and increasingly short-term — than the issue of climate change, as important as all those other issues are.”
A shorter answer would’ve been to say he didn’t bring it up because he doesn’t really care or he was afraid to because of how Xi might have reacted. Neither option is good, and neither option is what a true leader would do. But at least that would be honest.
Newsom’s use of the word “situational” is bizarre as an explanation of why genocide should take a back seat to climate change. But what makes it truly embarrassing is that China’s commitments on climate change are just as illusory and fraudulent as its commitment to human rights.
China is putting hundreds of new coal-fired power plants online, permitting additional new ones each week. It is replacing all of the carbon emissions that California has ever taken offline, and then some. Despite China’s pledges on the international stage, Xi himself has stated he has no intention of following Newsom, Biden or anyone else down the West’s zero-carbon rabbit hole. He has already backed out of the commitments he made in connection with the Paris climate agreement. His war plans for Taiwan, whenever they take shape, will also certainly entail more additional emissions (by multiple belligerents) that no one will be able to offset.
The only real question is, how loudly does Xi have to say he doesn’t give a damn about global warming before credulous Westerners start believing him?
It must make the Chinese dictator smile to see someone so naive come and kiss his ring. Newsom just handed him a big propaganda victory, while also trading away moral credibility for empty promises.
Derek Hunter is host of the Derek Hunter Podcast and a former staffer for the late Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).
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This story originally Appeared on The Hill