US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said global institutions trying to deal with an aggressive China are no longer fit for purpose, in part because Australia does not have a leading role in many of them.
And in extraordinary comments, Pompeo has hit out World Health Organisation boss Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for aiding China’s initial cover-up of the pandemic, saying that was the reason for “dead Britons” because he has been “bought” by the Chinese.
Pompeo made the remarks in London to an assortment of British MPs at the Millbank headquarters of the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank which is hawkish on China and has been instrumental in leading the putsch against Johnson’s original approval for the Chinese firm to build Britain’s 5G networks.
MPs from all parties, including the Conservative and Labour party as well as the Liberal Democrats attended the meeting, which was held before the former CIA director met Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
A source in the room said MPs asked Pompeo questions, mostly about how Britain could best deal with China, which has struck an aggressive posture since the pandemic.
The UK’s own response has hardened as a result with the government suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, extending its arms embargo to the territory, offering 3 million Hong Kongers potential citizenship and blocking Huawei from supplying its 5G networks.
In the meeting, the UK’s former deputy prime minister and Conservative backbencher Damian Green asked Pompeo about the likelihood of assembling a global coalition to jointly respond to China to prevent Beijing from steamrolling smaller countries.
Pompeo said any new coalition would need to perform better than the current multilateral institutions like the United Nations Security Council where China has an automatic veto.
Pompeo said the US had boosted funding to NATO and sent it some of its best China-analysts to help Europe better understand the Chinese military and its tactics. He listed the G7 and G20 among the many tools “out there” to try and uphold the international rules-based order.
Australia is a member of the G20 but not the G7; it last sat on the United Nations Security Council in 2014 and is bidding again for a position in 2029 which is the earliest opportunity because only one country from the Asia-Pacific region is eligible to contest each term.
But Australia’s pushback against Chinese interference, including its world-leading ban on Huawei from critical telecoms networks, have earned it a reputation abroad as a pioneer in striking a security posture alongside its economic relationship with the world’s second-largest economy. China is Australia’s largest two-way trading partner.
“We just have to decide if any of those [multilateral institutions] are fit for purpose … I also think that they’re not shaped right for this current confrontation,” Pompeo is said to have told MPs.
Pompeo said the US was actively thinking about how to resolve the issue but had not reached an answer. Greater representation was needed from southeast Asia, he said.
“We’re going to need the one billion-plus people in India, we’re going to need the Australians – it’s going to take all of these democracies together.”
But the most extraordinary response came when Labour MP Chris Bryant pressed Pompeo on the United States undermining the rules-based order with its own actions by quitting the Paris climate accord, World Health Organisation and Human Rights Council.
Pompeo prompted laughter when he coined them the “three sins” but strongly defended quitting the WHO which he said was a “political” and not a “science-based organisation”.
Both the British and United States governments are facing fierce criticism for their death tolls, which are amongst the highest reported tolls from COVID-19 in the world.
He accused Tedros of being bought by the Chinese but did not provide MPs with any evidence to back his claim.
“When push came to shove, when it really mattered to us, when there was a pandemic in China, Dr Tedros – who was hook line and sinker bought by the Chinese government — and I can’t say more but I can tell you I’m saying this on informed intelligence.
“There was a deal made in the election [of Dr Tedros as the head of WHO] and when push came to shove you’ve got dead Britons because of the deal that was made,” Pompeo said.
Speaking at his news conference earlier, Pompeo said of China: “You can’t engage in cover-ups and co-opt international institutions like the World Health Organisation.”
The World Health Organisation denied the existence of any deal backed by China to support Dr Tedros’ election to the leadership position.
“WHO is not aware of any such statement but we strongly reject any ad hominem attacks and unfounded allegations,” a spokesperson told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
“WHO urges countries to remain focused on tackling the pandemic that is causing tragic loss of life and suffering.”
Pompeo said the US had quit the Human Rights Council because it was “ridiculous.”
“To be part of the Human Rights Council who sanctions Israel but not China is nuts,” he said.
Pompeo dealt a blow to the UK government in saying the US had shared its intelligence with the Five Eyes that it used to sanction Chinese Communist Party officials over the human rights abuses waged against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province.
Raab has been under pressure to match the US’ sanctions but has resisted doing so, claiming the government needed to perform its legal due diligence.
By Latika Bourke