U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken deleted a tweet he sent out on Wednesday in support of Hong Kong, replacing it with a much more mild criticism of Beijing’s crackdown on the semi-autonomous region the following day.
The deleted tweet, first spotted by the Alibaba-owned South China Morning Post, explicitly called out the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for its recent disqualification of pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong. Blinken’s tweet also gave wholehearted support for those working to further human rights in the region and said the Biden administration stands with the people of Hong Kong.
“Beijing should let the voices of all Hong Kongers be heard. The PRC’s disqualification of district councillors only weakens Hong Kong’s long-term political and social stability. We stand with the people of Hong Kong & continue to support their human rights & fundamental freedoms,” Blinken first tweeted.
That tweet was copied and published by Ned Price, a spokesperson for the State Department, on his own account, but both Price and Blinken’s tweets were deleted. The next day, Blinken posted a new tweet.
“The PRC’s disqualification of seven pro-democracy district councillors undermines the ability of people in Hong Kong to participate in their governance. Governments should serve the people they represent. Decreasing representation goes against the spirit of Hong Kong’s Basic Law,” Blinken tweeted.
The new tweet removed mention of the U.S. standing with the people of Hong Kong, something that may seem subtle to Americans, but was seen as a strange capitulation to Beijing in the Hong Kong press. As the South China Morning Post noted, the deleted tweet, “offered more moral support and assurance to Hong Kong’s opposition camp.”
The change in tone is bizzare, if only because the White House has been anything but easy on China since President Joe Biden took office in January. In fact, Biden announced a historic pact with the UK and Australia on Wednesday that would ramp up information and resource-sharing between the three countries to shore up military defenses against China.
The new AUKUS agreement will see the U.S. share closely-guarded nuclear submarine technology with Australia, something that America hasn’t done with any country since the late 1950s, when the U.S. showed the UK how to build its own nuclear-powered submarines. The new deal will also allow the three countries to share artificial intelligence secrets and will likely mean that more U.S. troops will be stationed in Australia’s northernmost city of Darwin, right in China’s backyard.
“The United States is talking about bringing through all sorts of planes—bombers and different surveillance planes, etc,” Australia’s defense minister Peter Dutton told Nine News from Fort Meade, Maryland early Friday.
All of this is to say that the Biden administration doesn’t seem to be shy about pissing off China right now, especially by arming Australia with closely held nuclear sub secrets. But it’s entirely possible that Wednesday’s deleted tweet from Blinken was deleted precisely because of that days’ announcement surrounding the AUKUS arrangement. Because, needless to say, Beijing is not pleased with the new set-up in the Indo-Pacific.
“The nuclear submarine cooperation between the US, the UK and Australia has seriously undermined regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race and undermined international non-proliferation efforts,” China’s ambassador to Australia said in a statement published online Friday.
“The export of highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology to Australia by the US and the UK proves once again that they are using nuclear exports as a tool for geopolitical game and adopting double standards. This is extremely irresponsible,” the statement continued.
“Relevant countries should abandon the outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical perception, respect the will of the people of regional countries and do more to contribute to regional peace, stability and development. Otherwise, they will only end up shooting themselves in the foot,” the embassy statement said.
As you can see, China is not too happy with the U.S., UK, and Australia right now. So why would Secretary Blinken bother with trying to mute his criticism of Beijing, which is systematically destroying freedoms in Hong Kong—from jailing dissidents to banning movies? That part isn’t clear yet.