Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has mounted a broad campaign warning against China’s infiltration of American life from university campuses to American companies, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.
At just about every opportunity at which he’s asked to speak or comment, Pompeo accuses the Chinese of exploiting foreigners, notably Americans, while expanding their influence militarily and diplomatically in a bid for global domination ranging from the Asian periphery of China to the rest of the world. “The Chinese Communist Party,” he remarked in a recent visit to London, “presents the central threat of our times.”
If that view appears somewhat extreme, there’s no doubt that China’s President Xi Jinping has hardened his grip over China by expanding the party’s control of all aspects of society from the national to the village level. From that secure base, China has emerged as a global power under the aegis of a governing structure over which the party reigns supreme.
Pompeo is speaking out in strong terms that would seem to put him totally at odds with his boss, President Donald Trump, who last month signed a trade agreement with China that he called “the biggest deal ever seen.” It’s difficult to believe, though, that Pompeo, a brilliant graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a former congressman, director of the Central Intelligence Agency when Trump nearly two years ago named him secretary of state, has been acting and talking entirely on his own.
Rather, the impression is that Trump and Pompeo are going through their own version of the routine of the good cop and the bad cop in dealing with a recalcitrant suspect. While Trump plays the good cop, talking up the wonders of a deal with China that many see as highly flawed, Pompeo goes around sounding notes of realism about a predatory power that he portrays as gnawing at the fabric of American life.
There’s as yet no evidence, but it seems highly likely that the two, the president and the secretary of state, have discussed this strategy. Trump may or may not be as dumb and unpredictable as his critics say he is, but surely Pompeo knows what he is doing and saying. In fact, to many who’ve been alarmed at China’s adventurism beyond its borders, at least until the panic engendered by the coronavirus diverted the attention of President Xi and those around him, much of what Pompeo is saying makes sense.
While Trump tweeted about his “long and very good conversation” with Xi on the phone about the coronavirus, Pompeo was berating the Chinese for just about everything. Most important, he said, they were stealing America’s high-tech secrets, maintaining unfair trade barriers despite the deal with Trump, spreading propaganda through insidious Confucius institutes on U.S. campuses, and scheming to take over the internet in the transition to 5G networks.
“When Huawei executives show up at your door, they say you’ll lose out if you don’t buy in,” he told a security conference in Munich. “Don’t believe the hype.” It might be “without cost to be courageous, to stand up for our sovereignty,” he reminded somewhat uneasy allied leaders, but “name me a moment in history when the weak and the meek have prevailed.”
Back in Washington, Pompeo had an equally strong warning at a gathering of the governors of the 50 states. “Competition with China is happening inside your state,” he told the governors, “and it affects our capacity to perform America’s vital national security functions.”
Under Xi, he said, “the country is moving exactly in the opposite direction, more repression, more unfair competition, more predatory economic practices, indeed a more aggressive military posture as well, and it’s decided to exploit our freedoms to gain advantage over us at the state level and at the local level.”
Trump was particularly hard on the compromises forced on American educational institutions. If China is setting up Confucius institutes at American universities, he asked, “Why can’t we have the same thing at a Chinese institution?”
At the same time, he said, Chinese students in the United States are not at all likely to want to assist in brokering a deal on behalf of his North Korean ally. Under pressure to act in effect as intelligence agents, telling Chinese authorities what their American friends and contacts are doing.
On a higher level, Chinese are exploiting educators with offers of grants, and sometimes simple bribes, in exchange for often sensitive material. Hundreds of professors have gladly accepted multi-millions from Chinese sources, all of them under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party.
The most notorious case of late is that of Harvard chemistry and biology professor Charlies Lieber, said to have been targeted by the party’s “Thousand Talents Plan” for pulling academicians and others into a money trap in which they reveal the fruits of their scientific research.
All such issues parallel signs of military aggression extending far beyond China’s borders. As Pompeo observed in Munich, “China has had a border or maritime dispute with nearly every nation bordering it.” Now, he said, “China encroaches on the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.”
As for North Korea, Pompeo has spoken optimistically of China’s possible role, no doubt reflecting Trump’s eagerness for a real deal with his friend Kim Jong-un, but Trump and Pompeo have dropped North Korea for now.
While Pompeo castigates China for all its offenses, both of them have to realize that Xi is not at all likely to want to assist in brokering a deal on behalf of his North Korean ally.