The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, sat down with me on Friday for an interview that focused primarily on China. We began with a discussion about the nature of Taiwan’s predicament in the aftermath of China’s crackdown in Hong Kong. If this muted pushback is the reaction from the global sphere that played out in this case, what should Taiwan expect?
“I’m not certain that the actions that the Chinese have taken in Hong Kong is related to this moment to coronavirus and the distraction,” Pompeo said. “I’ve seen that narrative, I actually think General Secretary Xi’s had the vision that he is now executing in Hong Kong for a long time. This is just that. We’re just here.”
“So we thought with the extradition treaty effort… which the protesters and the world collectively were able to push back against, but it didn’t change Xi’s ultimate vision, which was that the central commitment to ‘one country, two systems’ that have been made before his time wasn’t something he found satisfactory,” said Pompeo. “And there was too much freedom, and he was going to stop it up.”
Pompeo believes the Hong Kong crackdown would have happened even absent what he calls the “Chinese virus” having impacted the world so much.
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“Sadly, there will be an enormous cost imposed on the people of Hong Kong connected to this,” Pompeo said. “If indeed it is just another communist-run city, which is the direction that it appears to have gone, then their lives will be materially less good in multiple dimensions. And that’s both sad and deeply inconsistent with what China tells the world about their desire to comply with the rule of law and international agreements.”
“I was on a call with the Five Eyes partners, and to a person, they recognized that there was an international commitment here wholly apart from the promises they made to the people of Hong Kong,” Pompeo said. “That’s now been violated. I just reminded them that we’ve been talking about this in the Trump administration for an awfully long time and we appreciate that they recognize that this was one.”
And as for Taiwan, the Secretary cited the decision to sell eight billion dollars worth of F-16s to them last year as an indication of support.
“The United States has a deep connection to Taiwan,” Pompeo said. “We’re committed to a free and open Indo Pacific and preserving the status that is in Taiwan today as a central component of that.”
I raised a comment from Gen. H.R. McMaster about there being no bigger difference in terms of policy direction, between the previous two administrations and the Trump administration than on the China issue. Pompeo cited Iran as another area, and compared the two, saying that in the case of both regimes, saying that “The previous administration had chosen to underwrite the Iranian terrorist regime. We’ve chosen to try to starve the regime from having the capacity to do harm. We’ve been very effective at that again toward China.”
Pompeo views the Obama administration as having accepted the foreign policy swamp’s assumptions about China’s inevitable rise, as opposed to seeing opportunities to push back against their dominance.
“The vision that Dr. Kissinger laid out that said, ‘if we have political opening, or an economic opening we will get a better outcome set, they will be more free more integrated in the global economy and therefore will behave as a better Global Citizen’ was a core belief that’s been held for decades and decades in the US foreign policy establishment, and is still held in deep pockets inside the US foreign policy establishment,” Pompeo said. “It’s just wrong.”
“It just turned out not to have manifested itself the way. I’ve spoken with Secretary Kissinger about this, and it’s certainly exacerbated by the particular leader that they’ve chosen in General Secretary Xi,” Pompeo said. “He has taken a much more expansion as much more freedom-destroying approach to all of the elements of Chinese power,” noting activities in the region by the regime. “These are Chinese aggressions that are inconsistent with the way nations ought to behave.”
“And I think others saw it, but also saw the market there of 1.4 billion people, and saw American companies making an enormous amount of money there,” Pompeo said. “It’s also the case that you’re losing an enormous amount of money from intellectual property theft, but you could see the holy grail of six or 700 middle class citizens purchasing things and consuming things that Americans might create wealth off of. It became something that they were just prepared to turn the other cheek.”
“And in the end, as President Trump said, we got run over,” Pompeo said. “The ultimate manifestation is what they did with the Chinese virus — the unwillingness to engage in the commitments that they made to the world is real and tragic, and has led to enormous loss of life, and massive destruction of global economic wealth.”
“We know that much earlier than they disclosed, they knew both of the existence of the virus. Its transmissibility, and the fact that there was human to human transmission, they covered that up and anybody who attempted to expose it was made to cease exposing, whether that’s reporters or journalists or doctors,” Pompeo said. “There was to be no communication about this – precisely the opposite of what you do when there’s a tragedy… You’re transparent and you bring resources to bear to solve the problem. That’s not how they behaved. And importantly, not how they’re behaving even today.”
“So the World Health Organization now says they’re going to go in and conduct an investigation. I have no confidence that that investigation will remotely be permitted to engage in the kinds of activities that could get you to the important unanswered questions that remain about how this virus began, and how its spread emanated,” Pompeo said.
“We know one of the things we know they made two decisions, the Chinese Communist Party made two decisions. One was to shut down. With all the authoritarian mind that they possess to shut down the region around Wuhan. They made a second decision not to shut down, international travel. Those were positive decisions that were made, these weren’t just things that happened. They made those two choices and the result of that is what we see today in Central Asia, in South America, in big pockets in Africa, and even here in the United States, where there is enormous destruction.”
And what of Dr. Tedros of the World Health Organization, who seems to have been such a disaster on this front? How does he even rise to such a level of significance given his compromised background?
“American leadership was asleep at the wheel,” Pompeo said. “We can’t always control who gets elected to international organizations. We will sometimes not get the candidate that we want. But in this case, as in many other cases, China was allowed to [direct] the most prestigious important decisions all across the international community.”
As a counter example, Pompeo points to the work the U.S. did to ensure that the Chinese didn’t own the World Intellectual Property Organization. The conversation then turned to TikTok, the China-backed social media platform Pompeo has reportedly supported banning.
“There are many places where we find China having access to the United States citizens private information that simply took dock, there are a couple of dozen important significant Chinese software firms. We’ve also seen the work we’ve done on the hardware side software with ZTE and with Huawei, we’re determined to get it right. And so we will use all the elements of our diplomatic and economic power to ensure we protect American information to make sure it’s not flowing directly to the Chinese Communist Party,” Pompeo said. “They’re going to have to fight harder to get it.”
Pompeo did acknowledge that some people just want to get rid of TikTok for non-security reasons – “the notes I got from friends all across the country, mothers saying ‘Please, take this away,’ not related to national security, but their kids’ time. Obviously my mission set is to make sure that their kids information, facial ID, all their addresses, their IP, their location, that their children’s information is not sitting in CCP headquarters.”
As for other areas where he believes the U.S. should be paying attention to Chinese dominance within a particular industry, Pompeo sees several security threats.
“Certainly their capacity to manufacture both the hardware and the software connected to [Unmanned Air Systems] is an important space,” Pompeo said. We see this with DGI here in the United States. The semiconductor industry is something that we’ve been very focused on to today… we have 12% of that fabrication here, so we’re working on a project to figure out a way to encourage companies to come back. It went away because state owned enterprises subsidized semiconductor manufacturing in other places, not just in China but in Taiwan and Ireland and other places too.”
“We need to make sure our supply chain for some of the most critical electronic communications infrastructure sits in a place we always will have access to it,” Pompeo said. “And then their whole handful of other technologies, some of which you stare at and say ‘why does that matter?’ Pharmaceuticals would be a good example, I suspect two years ago, people would have said look, it works right. We now know that it presents risk in times of conflict, and to make sure we do our best to get it right.”
In terms of our expectations for American companies, I asked what the consequences ought to be for those that do business with China that end up into being directly tied to forced labor.
“We’ve made clear our expectations of businesses. Our team put out a notice that said you should be very careful about engaging in businesses in China, that are not just the core challenges that are presented from Chinese technology but the human rights abuses,” Pompeo said. “Trafficking in persons. Modern human slavery. That takes place in some of those places, and we will have to ultimately resolve how we want to think about it. We hope that businesses that are often talking about the social good that they want to do – whether these are sneaker manufacturers or other companies who are out on the frontlines fighting for social justice – we think they have to take a serious look at the true risk of human rights, and where that’s growing from and make sure their supply chains are compliant.”
And does Pompeo include the NBA in that list of American companies?
“Yes, absolutely,” Pompeo said. “Every company has a responsibility. They all have a responsibility to reflect the core set of American values… They chose to be an American business and all the benefits that accrue from that. They have a responsibility to make sure they’re not doing things that put American lives at risk.”