Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Jan Jekielek of The Epoch Times’ American Thought Leaders Program
QUESTION: Secretary Mike Pompeo, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s great to be with you. Thanks for the invitation to be here and have this great conversation today.
QUESTION: Well, we’re going to focus on your “distrust and verify” approach to China and on religious freedom as well, since we don’t have a ton of time. I’d love to talk to you about all sorts of things. So in – when you were at – speaking at the Nixon Library, and this speech that kind of capped off the series of four —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — about the approach to China, you mentioned that Chinese dissidents had been warning for decades about the nature of the Chinese Communist Party but were largely ignored. And you’ve – you’ve changed this to some extent. You’ve welcomed a range of dissidents to basically speak with you and then learn about these things. And on International Human Rights Day, you actually sanctioned a Chinese official for gross human rights violations against Falun Gong practitioners, which actually marks the first in 21 years of persecution of this group in China. We actually wrote an editorial about it. We’ve been covering this issue extensively. So why do you think it took so long?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Goodness. That’s a complicated question. You go back all the way to Tiananmen Square. We’ve known the nature of this regime. And frankly freedom loving people across the world have known the nature of authoritarian regimes throughout history and yet we ignored it. We ignored it in part because we had a foreign policy establishment that believed deeply that if we traded enough stuff with them, if we engaged with them, that the – some of the Chinese Communist Party would engage at least externally in the world on a fair and reciprocal basis. And that was – that was patently false all the way through.
And yet the resistance from lots of quarters was enormous for a host of reasons, some of the economic; some of them just – truly people who thought they could get to a better place. It’s clear not true. President Trump recognized that when he began his campaign and then when he took office. We’ve now changed fundamentally how I think the West looks at China, not just the United States. Even when you look at Europe, Australia, and South East Asia, they know too. They know that the Chinese Communist Party is up to no good.
And so while these dissidents were ringing the bell and telling us of these problems, we looked past them. We had other challenges. We were involved in a very serious counterterrorism campaign appropriately so. And we took our eye of this enormous threat and now – it’s now upon us. It’s now inside the gates. The Chinese Communist Party is here in America and the Trump Administration has begun in every dimension to turn the ship in the right direction to get America to once again do the right thing and protect itself from this Communist threat in China.
QUESTION: And you’ve focused I think more than any secretary of state than I can remember on religious freedom. And of course this dimension fits into the Chinese question dramatically. Again why is that? Why is that important?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s so – it’s at the center of every civilization, this idea that human beings have inherent dignity because of their humanness. And if you get that piece wrong, bad things flow from that. Lots of diplomatic things – military bedlam – lots of bad things flow from that. So we under President Trump’s leadership have focused on religious freedom not just in China but elsewhere but particularly with the Chinese Communist Party.
We’ve seen what they’re doing to the Uighurs in the western part of the country. We’ve seen what they’ve done to Tibetans. We now see them doing the same thing to other ethnic minorities including the people in Mongolia in the north part of China and then Christians throughout the entire country, right – the Sinicization of the bible – these things that fundamental affronts to human dignity are something that is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.
And General Secretary Xi Jinping is no different. He knows that he has to extend ever increasing power and control in order to maintain his capacity to rule. And that shuts out the important space that religious freedom should have for every human being in the world. And we’ve done our best to try and shine a light on that whether it was speaking to the leadership in the Vatican or speaking to religious leaders in other parts of the world and to – for me personally to get a chance to meet with some of these people who have been persecuted or had their families persecuted has been a wonderful personal experience as well to see these noble amazing people who simply want the capacity to exercise their own conscious rights.
I’m proud of the work that the State Department has done. I’m proud of what President Trump and our administration have done. And I am confident that the world will keep up this drumbeat demanding simply that the Chinese Communist Party permit people to exercise their God given rights to practice and to – and not practice their faith in the way that they so choose.
QUESTION: So you’ve gone to great pains, it seems to me anyways, to separate the concept of the Chinese nation and the Chinese Communist Party in people’s minds and presumably here at the State Department. Why is that so important to you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, there’s a lot of history, the dynasties in China. The history of this place is long and storied, and the people who occupy this place are good people. Sadly, they live under the jackboot of an authoritarian regime that denies them the capacity to grow their families. For the longest time, they were denied the capacity even to have children in the way that they wanted to. There was selective abortion taking place. Some of the greatest tragedies of civilization of the last 50 years have taken place inside of China.
But it’s not the people driving that. It’s these leaders who are stealing money, driving state-owned enterprises to do things that are disconnected from the way the world ought to operate, and denying – while lifting some folks out of poverty, to be sure, denying the basic political freedoms that every human being is entitled to.
And so I admire the Chiense people. I am confident that the Chinese people want a different path forward. They want their freedoms, and it is the Chinese Communist Party denying them. But it is important to keep them separate. We have – there are great Chinese people who live all across the world, including here in the United States of America. We want to honor them and we admire them, and we hope that they too will join the call to change the nature of how this regime behaves in its international activities.
QUESTION: So you’ve said that at this point we can never really go back to the status quo with respect to China, which is essentially, I guess, what was the status quo four or five years ago. I guess the question is you – I think you’re the 70th secretary of state. There’s a larger turnover than presidents.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I joke about that all the time, yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So, well, what can ensure that this type of approach to the Chinese Communist Party is maintained whenever it is that you – that the next rotation happens?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think people all across the world aren’t going to let this happen. I certainly think Americans are now more attuned to this threat. For a long time, America’s leaders denied that this was taking place, so I think people couldn’t see it or feel it, or their leaders were telling them, no, it’s okay if they steal millions of jobs from people in Kansas or Iowa who invented something, or they steal some technology invented in the Silicon Valley or in the Boston Corridor. American leaders said, that’s okay, we’re going to go make a pretty penny; don’t worry.
Those days are gone. I think people saw, too, with this Wuhan virus, I think they saw the nature of the regime up close all across the world. And I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in polling data, but more importantly as I have traveled the world and spoken with people. I think they understand the nature of this regime in ways that they didn’t three, four, or five years ago. I think we are in part responsible for that. But no one’s going back. No human being who can see – whether they’re in Indonesia or Vietnam or Singapore, no one’s going to go ever acknowledge again that the Chinese Communist Party isn’t up to no good. They see it. They see it plainly.
And so I’m confident that this pressure that is now on the Chinese Communist Party is real, and not just because leaders are demanding it, because people all across the world can see it. The true face of the Chinese Communist Party has been exposed.
QUESTION: I’m inclined to believe that. I’ve certainly seen a lot of shifts in thinking, but then I’m scratching my head here at this agreement on an EU-China treaty that of course I’m sure you’re extremely aware of. I think you’ve even said that people in Brussels told you, “We’re not going to go back to the status quo.” This treaty, if it actually goes through, seems to me like the opposite, like exceeding the status quo in the other direction.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Remember, trading with China’s okay, if they’re selling us widgets and we’re purchasing widgets and it’s fair and equitable and on a reciprocal basis. If an American company or European company can invest in China with the same rules that they can invest here, and it doesn’t impact American national security, that’s fine.
What we can’t do is what we – we, the world can’t do – is what we’ve done for 50 years, which is every time the Chinese demand an exception – whether that’s an exception to national security policy, or a set of trade rules at the WTO, or as they – “the World Health Organization’s interesting, but frankly we’re just simply not going to do what they ask us to do, and we’ll co-opt them and politicize them” – those are the things we have to stop.
We cannot permit – we can’t continue to bend a knee to the Chinese Communist Party in the way that we have for 50 years. They will take advantage of that. They will do what General Secretary Xi Jinping says he wants to do. So they will create a hegemonic capacity to have vassal states all across the world. That’s not tolerable. The ideas of freedom and liberty that we hold dear, that our Founders hold dear here in the United States, ought to be the rules basis for how the world interacts for the next 50 years. And if we don’t stand up, if the West doesn’t stand up – and the West is an idea, not a location – if the West doesn’t stand up for the things that we know to be important, then in fact the Chinese Communist Party will prevail and our kids and our grandkids will live in a very different world. None of us want that.
QUESTION: Well, so here’s a challenging question. At least to me it’s challenging. We have – we’re still giving, here in America, tens of thousands of visas to Chinese students. We already know that some of them are definitely expected by the Chinese Communist Party to basically work for them and at different levels of intensity. How do we deal with that? We’re still doing this, right?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So that’s right. There’s some 300-plus thousand Chinese students on the average year that’ll be studying here in the United States. To the extent those students want to come here and learn and be exposed to the West, that’s fine. That’s, frankly, a good thing. They’ll go back to their home country and they’ll see what freedom and liberty and the capacity to raise your family in the way that you want to – they’ll get a taste of it. That’s good.
But sadly, we have experienced that the Chinese Communist Party and the MSS and PLA, the security apparatuses inside of China, have co-opted too many of these. We kicked a couple thousand of them out that we could readily identify. That hasn’t happened before. We’ve now done a lot more work in the schools to make them aware of the risks associated with grants and research projects that the – that the Chinese Communist Party had infiltrated or at least had access to. So we’ve put our research institutions in a better place. We’ve shut down a whole bunch of Confucius Institutes just by calling them out for what they are. And I’ve traveled the United States – sometimes been critiqued for this – but traveled the United States to tell the story. I spoke at Georgia Tech, I spoke in Wisconsin about the Chinese Communist Party inside our gates, inside our government, inside our institutions of higher learning, inside our research institutions.
If we get that right, if we control and ensure that our security elements are protected in a way that is appropriate, then having Chinese students study here is perfectly fine. But the whole world needs to do that. It’s not just U.S. institutions. They’re studying in institutions in Australia and in Europe and places around the world. This isn’t just a U.S. challenge. The whole world must take this on.
QUESTION: And of course, there have been very significant shifts, exactly as you describe. At the same time, we’re seeing – let’s call it Wall Street or investment still, as far as I can tell, full-steam ahead into China as much as they can.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think that’s shifted a bit too, partly as a result of President Trump and the policies that he’s adopted, but I think many of them, too, saw the true face of the Chinese Communist Party during the coronavirus. They say their institutions corrupted. They’ve now seen state-owned enterprises compete in ways, even in just the last couple of years, I think they hadn’t fully recognized.
So you have begun to see supply chains shift to other places. I think there is a deeper recognition amongst the business community today of the political risks of operating inside of China in ways that there weren’t two or three years ago. It’s true, there’s still significant investment taking place there. I’m reminded that President Trump has said, great, if we do this in a fair and reciprocal way, that’s what the trade deals were designed to do; if we do this in a fair and reciprocal way, that’s fine. We have to protect our security issues. But I think both the investment and business communities have taken on board the challenges from the Chinese Communist Party, and while change is often slow and sometimes one step forward and a couple steps sideways, I think they, too, have acknowledged this and will begin to move in a direction that performs the central function, which is protecting Americans and our security here at home. That’s a military component and a deep economic component. We want to make sure that people have good, high-paying jobs here in the United States and that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t steal them from us by doing things that are just completely unacceptable.
QUESTION: So you’ve identified this approach of distrust and verify, I suppose modeled on – based on Reagan’s approach. Some people think this is too antagonistic of language to speak to another nation, especially a large one like China.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Every experience I’ve had in my six years as a member of Congress and now four years serving in the Trump administration would suggest that anything but distrusting anything that comes from the Chinese Communist Party is folly. They have broken promise after promise after promise – not just promises to the United States, promises to the world, promises to the people of Hong Kong, promises to their own people in mainland China, a promise to President Obama that says they wouldn’t militarize the South China Sea. Time after time after time. The Chinese Communist Party promises that if they have a virus problem that they’ll disclose it. The list is endless. They still, to this day, haven’t allowed the World Health Organization to begin its investigation of where this virus emanated from, and yet they promised they would.
No, I don’t think describing distrust but verify as the core model by which the United States should interact with the Chinese Communist Party in any way misses the mark in ways that you suggest that others have said.
QUESTION: You mention China’s, I guess, activities around the virus, so to speak. This is kind of an interesting question – there’s all this talk about foreign interference in the election and so forth. And we know there’s a delayed report now that’s being put together about this. We – from what I understand, we know the Chinese Communist Party is involved. At the very least, the way they dealt with the virus, obviously, had a profound impact on the election. I don’t think anyone would dispute that. Any thoughts about this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I can’t say much. I’ll let the Intelligence Community complete their work and issue their report as appropriate. But the American people should know – I spoke about this is in Wisconsin – the Chinese Communist Party is all around us. They are working in our schools. They are working in our clubs and organizations. They’ve put a face that’s called a civic organization when, in fact, it’s an element of the Chinese Communist Party information-gathering efforts.
This is the kind of threat that is different in kind than one we have seen in an awfully long time, and the responses that will be required will have to be different as well. That certainly holds true for elections. The Chinese Communist Party clearly lobbies hard, works hard, they have consulates across America where their diplomats are engaged in behavior that’s inconsistent with what we’re supposed to do as diplomats. We shut down one of them because we – it was very clear that they were running a spy operation out of the consulate in Houston. But the American people just need to be on guard in the sense of we need to be aware that the Chinese Communist Party is not acting in a way that is in America’s interest, and the leadership of the United States has to be very clear with the American people about that.
QUESTION: We’re going to have to finish up in a little bit, but one thing I did want to ask you about is something I think a lot of people might not be aware of. It’s this Commission on Unalienable Rights, if I have the name correctly, that you’ve commissioned. And just very briefly, why is this so important to you and what’s its purpose?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We kind of began here. The set of rights that our Founders recognized – didn’t create – they recognized that God had provided to each of us is central to the American story and the exceptional nation that we are relies on our fundamental understanding of America in the same way that our Founders did. This Judeo-Christian of rights, natural rights, that to each of us are granted by God.
I watched around the world, I watched the human rights efforts that had begun in the 20th century and now into this one, and I saw it coming unglued at least here in America from our founding principles, and I wanted to go back and ask some experts on human rights to take a look at this. So I impaneled a commission led by a woman named Mary Ann Glendon. We had people from many different faiths and many different political backgrounds go back to the founding and say, tell me – tell me how our foreign policy could effectively be grounded in the American tradition. And I asked them to do that, and it was fascinating to see because they also took a look at other traditions around the world – human rights traditions – and we’ve now launched a global effort to talk about these things that matter, these intrinsic rights that matter to each of us so much.
I hope your viewership will all go take a look – it’s a short report, it’s some 50 pages long – they’ll go take a look at it. It goes back and it reminds us of the greatness of America and how smart and capable our Founders were and why that is so central to the successes that our nation has had. These rights matter. If all rights – if everything becomes a right, our foreign policy can’t be delivered in a way that is principled, and I wanted to get us back to that tradition.
QUESTION: Well, Secretary Mike Pompeo, such a pleasure to have you on.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Very nice to see you too. Thank you.
Source: State Department