US secretary of state Mike Pompeo says China is their greatest challenge
Even as the United States and China seek to resolve escalating trade tensions, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has called China the “greatest challenge” facing his country; bigger than Russia or Iran. “Over the five, ten, twenty-five year time horizon, just by simple demographics and wealth, as well as by the internal system in that country, China presents the greatest challenge that the United States will face in the medium to long term,” Pompeo said in an interview to a radio host Monday.
Interviewer Hugh Hewitt asked Pompeo if he considered China the “greatest threat” to the west. He asked if the threat was bigger than Russia, which has inherited and embraced all of Soviet Union’s hostility for the west and Iran, which has been hit with unprecedented sanctions by President Donald Trump’s administration. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Pompeo said.
The remarks came at a crucial time in relations between the world’s largest and second largest economies. They are negotiating an improbable trade deal, weighed down by exaggerated expectations and promises, under the cover of temporary truce agreed upon by President Trump and President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina earlier this month.
The secretary of state’s remarks also came just weeks after a scathing attack by Vice-President Mike Pence against China in which he had accused the country of “employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic, and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States”.
Earlier this year, FBI director Christopher Wray had described the threat as more expansive — “One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-of-government threat, but a whole-of-society threat.”
Even as Trump seeks to portray a sense of camaraderie with Jinping—having hosted him at his Florida resort, through regular shoutouts to their ongoing trade negotiations, and the peace initiative for the Korean peninsula— relations between the two countries have been on a downward spiral this year.
“2018 could go down in history as the year China lost the United States,” a White House official dealing directly with China told a western diplomat recently.
Vice-president Mike Pence’s speech at Hudson Institute, a US think tank, in October had received little to no attention in the United States, drowned out by mid-term elections and related rhetoric even though experts said it was meant for the domestic audience in view of the polls. But Beijing and diplomats around the world took note.
A Chinese expert told Bloomberg News recently it was a “tipping point” in relations between the two countries.
Pence heard and felt Beijing’s anger at a summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries in Papua New Guinea a few weeks later. “Unilateralism and protectionism will not solve problems but add uncertainty to the world economy,” Jinping had said in an attack on Trump’s American First policy in every sphere, from trade to economic and foreign policies. He added, “History has shown that confrontation, whether in the form of a cold war, a hot war or a trade war, produces no winners.”
Pence had hit back in his speech. “We have great respect for President Xi and China, but as we all know, China has taken advantage of the United States for many, many years and those days are over.”
The Trump administration has accused China of forcing American companies to part with their proprietary technologies and for doing business in China. It also accused them of denying American companies access to the Chinese market and infringing on intellectual property rights. A trade deficit of around $375 billion has been used by President Trump to initiate tariff hikes that set off a tariff war that American and Chinese leaders put on hold at their Buenos Aires meeting.
US angst with China goes deeper. Tump has accused China of interfering in US elections, as he did in his maiden speech to the UN security council past September without proof. His officials have also highlighted disappointments on security issues.
Pompeo went right at it in his interview with the conservative radio host. He said that the Trump administration feels aggrieved about unkept promises from Xi on the disputed South China Sea islands. “In some cases, they have misled us,” Pompeo said. “You’ll recall that in the Rose Garden, President Xi confirmed that he would not militarize these, I’ll call them islands, but these outposts in the South China Sea, and then in fact did.”