President Biden faced swift criticism Tuesday night for remarks on how he plans to approach human rights abuses in China.
Biden just recently had a phone call with President Xi Jinping and said his counterpart was focused on maintaining a "united, tightly controlled" China. Biden said that focus is what guides Xi.
But as president of the U.S., Biden said during a CNN town hall event in Milwaukee, he has to speak out against Beijing’s aggression in Hong Kong, "what’s he’s doing with the Uighurs in the western mountains of China," and Taiwan. Biden said Xi understands that.
"Culturally, there are different norms" that leaders are expected to follow, Biden said. He later stated that China will face "repercussions" for its actions.
Still, the "different norms" comment prompted Biden’s detractors to accuse him of downplaying the situations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called what’s unfolding in the western region of the country "crimes against humanity" and a "genocide."
Boris Epshteyn, a 2020 strategic adviser for former President Trump, called Biden's town hall comment "horrible."
The BBC recently ran a damning report about allegations of forced labor and sexual abuse in the Xinjiang region. The BBC reported that there was a formal legal opinion published in the United Kingdom that states there is a "very credible case" that Beijing is carrying out genocide against the Uighurs, a claim that China has denied.
The White House did not immediately respond to an after-hours email from Fox News for clarification. Biden’s inner circle has spoken out against the treatment of the Muslims and ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said last month that the U.S. should be "prepared to act, as well to impose costs, for what China is doing in Xinjiang, what it’s doing in Hong Kong, for the bellicosity and threats it is projecting towards Taiwan."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this month that he had a phone call with a senior Chinese official and brought up the country's treatment of Uighurs, Hong Kong and other issues, according to VOA News.
"I made clear the U.S. will defend our national interests, stand up for our democratic values, and hold Beijing accountable for its abuses of the international system," Blinken wrote in a Twitter post.
Last week, Biden announced a Pentagon-operated China task force that is focused on how to counter Chinese aggression in the Pacific region, DefenseNews.com reported.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, responded to Biden’s announcement, saying Republicans had already formed a similar group.
"After first agreeing to join, Democrats walked away," he said. "Our national security shouldn’t be partisan. I call on the Biden administration to join our efforts to we can work together to keep America safe."
Shortly after last week's phone call with Xi, the White House issued a statement that said, "Biden underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.