Speaking at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in California, Pompeo used dramatic Cold War language to denigrate the era of formal relations with China initiated by the venue’s namesake almost 50 years ago, saying, “The old paradigm of blind engagement with China has failed. We must not continue it. We must not return to it.”
China subsequently criticized Pompeo’s assertions, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman describing the speech as malicious and ideologically biased.
Responding to the tone and content of the speech, numerous US analysts with deep experience in China have also criticized the administration’s new approach, fearing that overly simplistic rhetoric and assessments do not recognize complexities on the ground in China.
Robert Daly, a former diplomat with extensive experience in China, calls Pompeo’s view of the Chinese people and his hostility toward the government in Beijing “a dangerous illusion.”
“In confronting China, we’re not dealing with a wholly good people who have been ‘imprisoned’ or ‘enslaved’ by a purely malign party,” Daly, now director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the U.S. at The Wilson Center think tank, said in an emailed statement. “Chinese are often frustrated by a government [that] ignores their wishes, moves too slowly or moves in the wrong direction, but the available evidence is that, as citizens of the PRC, most Chinese people feel proud and enabled, not constrained.”
Pompeo described a Chinese people that he believes are broadly oppressed by the central government, and heaped praise on Chinese political dissidents, saying the US must “engage and empower the Chinese people – a dynamic, freedom-loving people who are completely distinct from the Chinese Communist Party.”
Most Chinese people support their government most of the time, Daly said, citing 33 years of experience working in the country. The support is partly due to propaganda, but also economic progress, he said.
“China is not a land of innocent captives and evil master trolls. U.S.-China relations are not a children’s story,” Daly said. “In China, the United States faces something far more formidable than Secretary Pompeo suggests: China is a vast, complex, wealthy, ambitious, aggrieved nation. Americans should face this challenge squarely and stop blinding themselves with morally flattering fables.”
Pompeo’s remarks provided few details on how US diplomats, economists and military officials will engage China differently in the future.
The US is running out of aircraft carriers to send to China’s maritime boundaries. China announced Friday morning it would retaliate for the US decision to close the Chinese consulate in Houston over spying concerns, ordering the closure of the US Consulate in Chengdu. And both countries continue to trade sanctions instead of goods and services.
Pompeo’s criticism of “timidity” among US allies, saying they have not done more to support the administration’s campaign against China, also drew criticism from experts and commentators.
Trump’s claims to represent the free world are “absurd,” because he “doesn’t care about democracy, human rights or freedom,” Thomas Wright, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe, told the Financial Times. “The Trump administration repeatedly rejected requests from Europe to work together on China until a few weeks ago…It’s a bit rich for him to now blame allies for not doing enough.”
Pompeo did not criticize Germany directly in his speech, saying only, “One NATO ally of ours won’t stand up for freedom in Hong Kong because they fear Beijing will restrict access to China’s market.” But the administration has previously criticized the German government for not imposing sanctions against China.
Pompeo spoke in absolutist terms about the administration’s future approach to China.
“American policymakers increasingly presumed that as China became more prosperous, it would open up, it would become freer at home, and indeed present less of a threat abroad, it’d be friendlier. It all seemed, I am sure, so inevitable,” said Pompeo, himself a Cold War veteran who regularly references his experience as a young Army officer patrolling the border between East and West Germany. “But that age of inevitability is over. The kind of engagement we have been pursuing has not brought the kind of change inside of China that President Nixon had hoped to induce.” LINK
China in response cautioned the US against continuing with “a competitive rather than cooperative mind-set toward China.”
“China-U.S. relations will only end up slipping to the edge of a cliff,” according to a Friday analysis from the Global Times, which is not a direct mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party but is aligned with its views, “which serves the interests of neither.” LINK
While the Chinese are renowned for their patience and cool demeanour, Pompeo seems set on finding out what their limits are. If the latest gratuitous China-baiting by the Secretary of State, and much more seriously the incessant provocations by the US Air Force and Navy which have deployed three aircraft carrier strike groups and several long-range strategic bombers to China’s maritime and airspace boundaries over the last two months, isn’t just part of the bombastic US electioneering campaign, it could have extremely grave consequences.
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