The United States is pushing back against stepped-up Chinese military activities near Taiwan and in the South China Sea as a means of deterring a conflict with Beijing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says.
China in recent days has conducted large-scale military exercises and provocative jet flights near Taiwan in what China’s state media say is a response to a visit to the island by a senior State Department official last week. China’s military fired four missiles into the South China Sea last week, and the People’s Liberation Army this week posted a video online showing a simulated Chinese bombing strike on the American territory of Guam.
Asked about the growing tensions in an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Pompeo blamed past policies that he said ignored threatening Chinese activities. He hinted that Washington was also ready to expand the offensive against Chinese internet companies operating in the U.S. and will seek to completely shut down a network of Chinese cultural centers in the U.S. called Confucius Institutes as soon as the end of this year.
“What we have done for decades is we have permitted the Chinese Communist Party to engage in threatening or disruptive behavior, whether that is predatory economic practices and the like, and they have continued to expand their capacity and their footprint,” he said. “The biggest risk with regard to the Chinese Communist Party is appeasement.”
President Trump, he added, has said, “Enough. We’re not going to let that happen anymore.’”
The secretary of state said in the interview that leaders in Beijing need to recognize the Trump administration’s seriousness and Mr. Trump’s commitment in pushing back against Chinese expansionism. “We watch these military activities, and we prepare,” Mr. Pompeo said. “President Trump’s been clear: We don’t want conflict with China. They say they don’t want conflict with us as well. We hope they’ll reduce what they’re doing to create this tension.”
The increase in saber-rattling and threatening rhetoric from China has worried some U.S. officials, who see the activities as possible signs that Beijing is preparing for some type of military action. The state-run Global Times, viewed as China’s most xenophobic state-controlled outlet, warned in an editorial this week that the series of military exercises near Taiwan could be a prelude to an attack on the island.
The United States is obligated to defend Taiwan from mainland attack under terms of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which also calls for selling defensive weapons to Taiwan.
The Trump administration recently formalized the long-delayed sale of 66 new F-16 jets to Taiwan in a deal worth $8 billion. Additional weapons sales to Taiwan reportedly will include an advanced attack missile called the Stand-Off Land-Attack Missile-Expanded Response, or SLAM-ER, an air-launched cruise missile capable of hitting targets in China.
Standing for freedom
Mr. Pompeo said the United States is determined to counter Chinese activities through economic, diplomatic and military responses.
“We’ve engaged our freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and elsewhere in ways that no administration has done before,” he said.
“We’re going to stand up for freedom, for the American right to make sure we transit goods wherever we need to in international waterways. Those are the things that President Trump has mandated, and I hope the Chinese Communist Party will see them for what they are: a clear enunciation of America’s underlying rights and our willingness to help build out a coalition to protect the free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Mr. Pompeo said the administration’s arms sales to Taiwan, which China considers part of its country and has vowed to reclaim, are permitted under the Taiwan Relations Act.
“We’re doing these things in a way that makes clear that the obligations that both countries, China and the United States, undertook, the commitments we made to each other, the promises that we made to each other, will be lived up to,” he said.
Mr. Pompeo said one of the challenges in deterring China is that Beijing “has never been held to account for broken promises.”
“Now we’re seeing those broken promises continue,” he said. “They promised President Obama they wouldn’t arm the South China Sea. They did so. They promised Hong Kong they would be allowed to have a different system from mainland for 50 years and they’ve now broken that promise. The list goes on.”
U.S. policy toward China is aimed at pressing the Chinese Communist Party to abide by its promises and commitments. “That goes for Taiwan as well,” he said.
Mr. Pompeo also weighed in on the controversy over the recent presidential order banning two popular Chinese apps, TikTok and WeChat, over concerns that Chinese intelligence uses the software to compile personal data on Americans and others. The problem is that China can obtain Americans’ data from the internet when it travels through networks owned by Chinese companies.
All businesses in China are required to turn over all information to “the Chinese national security apparatus,” Mr. Pompeo said.
In addition to WeChat, the Chinese messaging and financial transaction service, the U.S. government is looking at a number of Chinese applications to restrict.
“Our mission set is not to deny Chinese commercial activities, but rather to protect America’s national security and Americans’ private information,” Mr. Pompeo said.
A federal judge in California issued an order temporarily preventing the administration from banning WeChat. TikTok, a video-sharing site that is popular with younger internet users, is negotiating a possible partial sale to U.S. companies under pressure from the administration.
On WeChat, Mr. Pompeo said: “We think that they got the law wrong, and we’re hopeful that this big international security matter will not be decided in court. This is something the president has the full authority to do, and we hope that we will ultimately prevail there.”
Americans need to know that communicating and interacting online will not result in their information being stolen by Chinese intelligence services, he added.
Targeting Confucius Institutes
On China’s use of a network of Confucius Institutes on U.S. campuses for covert influence operations, Mr. Pompeo said the administration is working to shut down the institutes, possibly as soon as the end of the year.
“We began by righting what the previous administration had done wrong by calling out these institutions and making it known to the schools and institutions with which they were affiliated the risks that they present,” he said.
As a result of the effort, a number of the more than 100 Confucius Institutes were shuttered.
“We are looking at other tools,” Mr. Pompeo said. “The president is reviewing other options to get the certainty around not being influenced by these Confucius Institutes.”
The institutes present a false “happy front,” Mr. Pompeo said, by claiming to just teach Mandarin or Chinese culture. However, the institutes have been used for influence operations and have been connected by the Justice Department in at least one case to illegal Chinese technology talent recruitment programs, he said.
“This administration is not going to tolerate that,” Mr. Pompeo said.
The administration’s recent decision to block visas for about 1,000 students linked to a Chinese military-civilian “fusion program” and the closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston were examples, he said.
Mr. Pompeo also warned that Chinese influence in the upcoming presidential election is “a real challenge.”
Attorney General William Barr and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe have warned that China, along with Russia and Iran, are trying to influence the U.S. vote.
“The Chinese Communist Party will operate differently than other countries in trying to affect the outcome of our election,” Mr. Pompeo said, “but they are no less serious in their intention to have an impact, to exert their influence, to have an outcome that’s consistent with China’s goals and not those of the voters here in the United States.”
Vice President Mike Pence said in 2018 that China conducted an unprecedented effort to interfere in that year’s election and was targeting the president this year. “China wants a different American president,” he said.
Mr. Pompeo said he is confident that the U.S. government will protect the election and deliver a free, fair, secure election in November.
“I’m confident that we will deliver that, but the Chinese intent is certainly to weigh in on our election.”