Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized China during a visit to Beijing Monday for initially failing to condemn the murder of hundreds of civilians in the recent Hamas attack in Israel.
The New York Democrat said he told Chinese President Xi Jinping directly during a meeting with a visiting delegation of senators that he was “deeply disappointed” by a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement that failed to condemn the Palestinian militant group’s mass attack on civilians over the weekend.
“I also made a request a direct request to President Xi that the foreign ministry strengthen their statement on the Middle East which didn’t even mention the horrible, gut-wrenching loss of civilian life,” Mr. Schumer told reporters after the meeting. “I’m gratified that foreign ministry issued a new statement that did condemn the loss of civilian life.”
The senators also asked Mr. Xi to use China’s influence with the government of Iran to avoid spreading the conflict through the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant Hezbollah movement. Both Hezbollah and Hamas have long battled the Israeli state and denied its right to exist.
Mr. Xi told the senators he would deliver the U.S. message to Iran, Mr. Schumer said. China has been supplying weapons and other military goods to Iran for decades, according to U.S. officials.
China’s initial response to the Hamas attacks included a ministry statement urging “relevant parties” to remain calm and end hostilities. It also called for ending the conflict with a “two-state solution” that would give the Palestinians an independent homeland.
Later, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters that China was “highly concerned” about an escalation of the conflict. Ms. Mao also said China was “very saddened by the civilian casualties caused by the conflict, and also oppose and condemn such acts against civilians.”
The Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times blamed the conflict on “external interference” by the United States and Western nations, supporting Israel and ignoring the plight of the Palestinians.
“The bias and interference by Western countries, led by the U.S., in the Israeli-Palestinian issue have been evident for a long time, and historical Middle East conflicts have often had U.S. involvement behind the scenes,” the outlet stated.
Mr. Schumer told reporters he and a bipartisan group of lawmakers pressed the Chinese leader on a range of issues, including unfair trade practices and the role of Chinese companies in supplying precursor chemicals for fentanyl that is killing Americans in the tens of thousands annually.
“We believe it’s imperative on this issue that China act,” he said.
Mr. Schumer said the senators bluntly told Mr. Xi that the United States seeks fairness and stability and a level playing field for U.S. businesses, along with “responsible competition.” The United States also seeks greater reciprocity from China so that American companies doing business in China can compete as freely as Chinese firms in the United States.
Asked how the Chinese leader responded, Mr. Schumer said Mr. Xi and other leaders provided no promises and said they would consider changes.
“We made clear the United States cannot sit idly by and that we must address the Chinese government’s forced technology transfers, theft of intellectual property, require joint ventures and intimidation of U.S. businesses operating in China, among the other troubling activities that undermine the lack of reciprocity,” he said.
The United States wants China to remove restrictions and open markets to U.S. companies, including those involved in the semiconductor, financial services and aerospace industries.
“Our delegation is clear that we do not seek a confrontation with China,” he said. “But we will remain steadfast in our commitment to promoting stability in the region, freedom and democratic principles and vigorously defend our values.”
Mr. Schumer also said the senators pressed Mr. Xi to jettison China’s support for Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
“We made clear over and over again that we thought that China doesn’t help itself by aligning itself with Putin, that China cares about world opinion,” the majority leader said. “… And when they align themselves with Russia, and outlawed nations like Russia, they are not helping their own cause.”
Specific issues on trade raised during the talks included U.S. charges of massive Chinese theft of U.S. high-tech intellectual property. A 2018 White House report estimated that China’s theft of American technology is between $250 billion and $600 billion annually.
Mr. Schumer said the senators also called on China to end merger regulations that required Chinese ownership in U.S. companies and to halt forced intellectual property transfers from American firms.
Airline restrictions and limits on financial matters also were discussed. “This wasn’t just a general conversation, and we asked for action on all of them,” he said.
U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said the talks were “very frank” — diplomatic code for contentious and that they were “a step forward for the United States” in what he called “a very difficult and very challenging relationship.”
The six-member delegation included three Democrats and three Republicans. The Republican group was led by Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. Other members included Democratic Sens. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Jon Ossoff of Georgia, and Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and John Kennedy of Louisiana.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington said Mr. Xi told the lawmakers that U.S.-China relations “will determine the future of humanity.”
The statement also said the notion that a rising power and declining power are destined for war, the so-called Thucydides Trap, is false.
“The Thucydides Trap is not inevitable, and Planet Earth is vast enough to accommodate the respective development and common prosperity of China and the U.S.,” the statement said. China will continue to pursue “the path of socialism.”