Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday stepped up his harsh criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, accusing Beijing of destroying coronavirus samples needed to deal with the global pandemic.
Mr. Pompeo also criticized what he termed China’s “brutal authoritarian regime” and said longtime efforts to appease that regime had failed.
“For several decades, we thought the regime would become more like us through trade, scientific exchanges, diplomatic outreach, letting them in the [World Trade Organization] as a developing nation,” he told reporters at the State Department.
“That didn’t happen,” he said. “We greatly underestimated the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations. The whole world is waking up to that fact.”
President Trump is considering how to respond to the China’s handling of the virus that began in Wuhan last December, including missteps and deceptions Mr. Pompeo blamed on the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The Trump administration and many private critics say China’s government provided false information about the disease outbreak, hidi its infectiousness rates from other countries and allowed global travel from Wuhan that helped spark the pandemic.
“I don’t want to get ahead of [Mr. Trump] in terms of talking about how the administration will respond to that, but you can already begin to see the outlines of it,” Mr. Pompeo said.
New sanctions related to China’s efforts to develop 5G telecommunications technology, stepped-up efforts to ease Chinese control over rare earth mineral markets and other policy changes toward China are beginning to emerge, he added.
A Pew public opinion poll made public recently found that 66% of the American public now has an unfavorable view of China, up from 47% three years ago. Mr. Pompeo said Beijing’s performance in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan has already prompted more realistic views of the communist regime.
“The party chose to destroy live virus samples instead of sharing them or asking us to help secure them,” he said.
Additionally, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has stepped up claims for more islets and reefs in the disputed South China Sea, in areas the United States has declared as international waters and China is claiming as its maritime territory. Chinese gunboats also recently sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in a disputed waterway and threatened a Malaysian energy survey effort, while declaring a unilateral fishing ban in the region.
“The United States condemns these unlawful acts,” Mr. Pompeo said.
Additionally, China has threatened Australia’s government with economic retribution after Canberra took the lead in calling for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, an investigation that Beijing opposed under recently.
“We stand with Australia and the more than 120 nations now who have taken up the American call for an inquiry into the origins of the virus, so we can understand what went wrong and save lives now, and in the future,” Mr. Pompeo said.
Mr. Pompeo said the CCP has pressured World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus into blocking Taiwan from taking part in the WHO’s virtual assembly that just finished up in Geneva. The secretary said Mr. Tedros’ “unusually close ties to Beijing started long before this current pandemic, and that’s deeply troubling.”
Mr. Trump announced this week that he is considering permanently cutting off U.S. funding for the WHO, currently about $400 million a year, unless the organization makes “substantive” internal reforms in the next 30 days to improve operations and limit China’s influence.
Taiwan as model
On the day Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-web was inaugurated for a second term in Taipei, Mr. Pompeo praised the island-state — which China insists is part of its territory — as a model of democracy for the world.
The secretary also hailed the announcement this week that the Taiwanese microchip maker TSMC will invest in a $12 billion chip foundry in Arizona.
“Microchips integral to all our national security will be made in America again,” he said.
The factory deal comes as the Trump administration announced new sanctions on China’s state-linked Huawei Technologies designed to close a technical loophole in U.S. export controls that allowed Huawei to obtain U.S. microchips for its smartphones. The U.S. government believes Huawei, one of China’s few global corporate powerhouses, poses a national security threat because its products can be used for spying by Chinese intelligence agencies. China has threatened to retaliate for the new restrictions.
The Taiwan plant and new Huawei sanctions are part of a plan by the administration to prevent China from cornering the international market on emerging 5G telecommunications technology.
The third element is called “5G Clean Path,” that requires all 5G data that will transit American diplomatic facilities to be sent through non-Chinese equipment.
The secretary said he has urged Defense Secretary Mark Esper to make sure that U.S. military bases take part in the 5G initiative.
Mr. Pompeo also challenged comments by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is also the CCP’s general seccretary, at the Geneva WHO meeting that this week that Beijing had acted with openness and transparency in dealing with the disease outbreak.
“I wish it were so,” Mr. Pompeo said. “It’s been 142 days since doctors at Wuhan Central Hospital first started sharing information about a SARS-like virus. And yet, today, Beijing continues to deny investigators access to relevant facilities, to withhold live virus samples, to censor discussion of the pandemic within China, and much, much more.”
Mr. Pompeo also dismissed Chinese claims to support pandemic relief efforts as “paltry” considering the damage done by the disease to health and the economy.
“This plague has cost roughly 90,000 American lives,” he said. “More than 36 million Americans have lost their jobs since March. Globally, 300,000 lives.”
The total cost of the pandemic “could be as much as around $9 trillion” globally and was directly caused by CCP failures, he said.
In comparison to China’s promise of providing $2 billion in aid for pandemic responses, U.S. officials say Washington has provided about $10 billion in aid — ranging from vaccine research to funding for preparedness efforts and humanitarian aid.
Mr. Pompeo also said mainland Chinese encroachment on Hong Kong is causing the United States to reevaluate its policy of granting special trade status to Hong Kong.
Recently, pro-democracy legislators in Hong Kong were forcibly removed in a showdown with pro-Beijing lawmakers. Key pro-democracy leaders also have been legally pressured.
“We’re closely watching what’s going on there,” he said.