US-China tensions

Pompeo urges 'free nations' to change behaviour of CCP

US diplomat says Chinese Communist Party poses primary challenge to world's liberty

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in California, cast China's leaders as tyrants bent on global hegemony. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a major policy speech, has called on Chinese people and "free nations of the world" to change the behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The CCP now poses the primary challenge to the world's liberty, Mr Pompeo said on Thursday, as he urged countries to stand up together to China and "draw common lines in the sand".

"The free world must triumph over this new tyranny," he said. "If the free world doesn't change Communist China, Communist China will surely change us."

His 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, and 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 the US had rejected China's unlawful claims in the South China Sea and urged countries to keep Chinese equipment from their 5G networks out of security concerns.

"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.

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 US 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.

The speech cast the conflict in partially ideological terms, drawing parallels between Communist China and the Soviet Union, America's old Cold War adversary. Mr Pompeo called Chinese President Xi Jinping "a true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology", whose goal was "global hegemony built on Chinese Communism".

In a post-speech discussion, Mr Pompeo acknowledged he was asking countries to pick a side, but said those 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."

Analysts from the Eurasia Group consultancy said 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 (President Donald) 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.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Mr Pompeo's speech appeared to be a bid to cast himself as the 21st-century version of US 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," she added.

Other analysts lamented that the administration's valid concerns about the CCP's behaviour were clouded by electioneering and undermined by dysfunction at home.

Some analysts also said US efforts to rally a coalition to counter China were 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 of 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.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2020, with the headline Pompeo urges 'free nations' to change behaviour of CCP. Subscribe