WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Chinese people and "free nations of the world" to change the behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party, in a major policy speech on Thursday (July 23).
The CCP now poses the primary challenge to the world's liberty, he said as he urged countries to stand up to China together and "draw common lines in the sand".
"The free world must triumph over this new tyranny," said Mr Pompeo. "If the free world doesn't change Communist China, Communist China will surely change us."
Mr Pompeo's address capped a series of speeches on the imbalances in America's relationship with China, from economics to espionage, by top US officials in recent weeks.
It was one of the Trump administration's most sweeping indictments of the Chinese government, as well as one of its strongest appeals to countries to join Washington in countering Chinese behaviour.
Mr Pompeo called for "a new alliance of democracies", as he highlighted how America had rejected China's unlawful claims in the South China Sea and embarked on a drive to urge countries to keep Chinese equipment from their 5G networks out of security concerns.
"Every nation will have to come to its own understanding of how to protect its own sovereignty, how to protect its own economic prosperity, and how to protect its ideals from the tentacles of the CCP.
"But I call on every leader of every nation to start by doing what America has done - to simply insist on reciprocity, transparency, and accountability from the Chinese Communist Party," said Mr Pompeo at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in California.
The venue was a callback to the 37th US President, whose visit to China in 1972 paved the way for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
US-China bilateral relationship
America's almost 50 years of engagement with China had not brought the kind of change in China that it hoped for, said Mr Pompeo.
Today's China is increasingly authoritarian at home and more aggressive in its hostility to freedom abroad, he said, accusing China of stealing American trade secrets and making the world's key waterways less safe for international commerce.
And because the CCP peddled empty promises, Washington would keep talking to Beijing but on the basis of "distrust and verify", said Mr Pompeo.
US-China ties have nosedived sharply in the past two to three years, and tensions have escalated over the past month in particular over a wide range of issues from China's alleged intellectual property theft to its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Pompeo's speech on Wednesday cast the conflict in partially ideological terms, drawing parallels between Communist China and the Soviet Union, America's old adversary during the Cold War.
He called Chinese president Xi Jinping "a true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology", whose goal was "global hegemony built on Chinese Communism".
"We can no longer ignore the fundamental political and ideological differences between our countries, just as the CCP has never ignored them," he said.
But China was making the same mistakes as the Soviet Union by alienating potential allies, rejecting property rights and the rule of law, he said.
Mr Pompeo described a global "awakening", from Brussels to Sydney and Hanoi, to the threat posed by China, but also said he understood the reluctance of small countries that fear being picked off by China.
"Some of them simply don't have the ability, the courage, to stand with us for the moment," he said, calling such timidity one of the mistakes of history.
In a post-speech discussion, Mr Pompeo acknowledged he was asking countries to pick a side, but said that countries which stood up to China could rely on America to be there for them.
"I think about picking a side differently than picking America or picking China. The division...is between freedom and tyranny. That's the decision we're asking each of these nations to make," he said.
Analysts from the Eurasia Group consultancy said that the speech signalled a sharpening ideological conflict, although the speech itself would have little immediate impact on the already-frayed US-China relationship.
“Beijing has already concluded that the US under Trump is out to contain China, but with a US presidential election looming is not inclined to take drastic policy actions beyond proportional responses to US provocation,” they wrote in a research note.
They expected Beijing to respond with strong rhetoric targeting Mr Pompeo, whom they already view as the “chief villain in the administration”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said that Mr Pompeo’s speech appeared to be an attempt to cast himself as the 21st century version of American diplomat John Foster Dulles, the Cold War-era Secretary of State known for his aggressive anti-communism stance.
“What he is doing is as futile as an ant trying to shake a tree,” she said on Twitter. “It’s about time that all peace-loving people around the world stepped forward to prevent him from doing the world more harm.”
Other analysts however lamented that the administration’s valid concerns about the CCP’s behaviour were clouded by electioneering and undermined by dysfunction at home.
Others also said that America’s attempts to rally a coalition to counter China was hampered by the Trump administration’s treatment of allies, and that its appeals to the Chinese people fell flat given recent visa actions that targeted them.
“It’s impossible to overlook the perverse political incentives in play, such that the blaming of a foreign other and promulgation of xenophobia gain more traction than critical efforts to resolve urgent problems at home,” said adjunct senior fellow Elsa Kania from the Centre for a New American Security.
“These delusions of grand strategy are empty and hollow, particularly at a time when American credibility is so terribly damaged by the degradation of our values and founding principles,” she added.