Biden’s UN envoy pick to vow tough stance on China, greater US engagement
By CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, faces her Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, vowing to bring back “genuine, old-fashioned, people-to-people diplomacy,” according to her prepared remarks obtained by ABC News.
Thomas-Greenfield, a career ambassador who retired from the Foreign Service in 2017 as the top U.S. diplomat for Africa and former U.S. envoy to Liberia, will also promise a tougher line on China, according to her prepared testimony, as the Biden administration faces pressure from Republicans to take a hard line against Beijing and its growing global ambition.
“We know China is working across the U.N. system to drive an authoritarian agenda that stands in opposition to the founding values of the institution — American values. Their success depends on our continued withdrawal. That will not happen on my watch,” her remarks read.
If confirmed, Thomas-Greenfield, known affectionately by colleagues as “LTG,” would be the second Black woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and a part of Biden’s Cabinet. Biden again elevated the role to Cabinet-level after Trump removed it during his second envoy Kelly Craft’s tenure, as it was under both Presidents Bush.
But she will face a grilling first by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Republican senators are expected to raise China, Iran, the U.N. system and other hot-button issues.
According to the excerpts of her prepared remarks, she will advocate for raising U.S. engagement with the U.N., which includes global agencies like the World Health Organization from which former President Donald Trump moved to withdraw the U.S. Instead, LTG will say that only “when America shows up — when we are consistent and persistent — when we exert our influence in accordance with our values — the United Nations can be an indispensable institution for advancing peace, security, and our collective well-being.”
She will call for reforming the U.N., however, which has long faced criticism from Republicans for being bloated and ineffective or used as a cudgel for foreign affairs budget cuts.
“We must have the courage to insist on reforms that make the U.N. efficient and effective, and the persistence to see reforms through,” her remarks say.
As a career ambassador, Thomas-Greenfield has on-the-ground experience of the U.N. at work, especially its peacekeeping operations across sub-Saharan Africa and its efforts at mediation.
She also knows China’s ambitions on the continent, using its Belt and Road initiative to make in-roads with African leaders and gain control of natural resources. While she has criticized Beijing’s so-called “debt trap diplomacy,” where it offers infrastructure loans to saddle recipients with debt and seize their assets, she is perceived by some Republicans as too soft on China.
The oldest of eight children, she was raised in Baker, Louisiana — a segregated town terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan — by her father, an illiterate laborer, and mother, who pushed her to complete her education. The first in her family to graduate high school, she studied political science and pursued a career in academia at Louisiana State University and then the University of Wisconsin for her masters and PhD.
Fieldwork for her PhD brought her to Liberia, where she met her future husband and was inspired to join the Foreign Service — a 35-year career that culminates in her returning as U.S. ambassador to the once civil war-torn country that elected the first female president in Africa.
Over that career, she emphasized what she calls “gumbo diplomacy,” a brand of personal interactions that can win hearts and change minds in service to U.S. diplomacy.
“I’ve learned that effective diplomacy means more than shaking hands and staging photo ops. It means developing real, robust relationships. It means finding common ground and managing points of differentiation. It means doing genuine, old-fashioned, people-to-people diplomacy,” she will say Wednesday.
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