Halloween’s already come and gone in Hong Kong. Protestors, who’ve been locked in months of violent protests with police, stood outside of blockades yelling, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong!” Using the holiday as an excuse to wear costumes, protestors dressed up like everything from President Xi to tear gas canisters, while half a world away in New York, one U.S. leader decided to take the mask off the real villain of the story: China.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in the city to receive an award, the prestigious Herman Kahn honor from the Hudson Institute. But the secretary did more than thank his hosts. He took the opportunity to deliver the most stinging rebuke of the People’s Republic most people had ever heard. And the speech, he promised, would be the first of many.
Time is calling on America to act, Pompeo explained. Although the U.S. has had a long relationship with China, “we finally realizing the degree to which the Chinese Communist Party is truly hostile to the United States.” To be clear, he pointed out, the government of China isn’t the same as the people of China. And frankly, he admitted, “we’ve been slow to see the risk, because we wanted friendship with the People’s Republic.”
But that friendship, Mike went on, came at a price. “We accommodated and encouraged China’s rise for decades, even when that rise was at the expense of American values, Western democracy, and security, and good common sense.”
While the stories of persecution and torture piled up,
“We all too often shied away from talking directly about the human rights issues there and American values when they came into conflict, and we downplayed ideological differences, even after the Tiananmen Square massacre and other significant human rights abuses. We encouraged China’s membership in the World Trade Organization and other international organizations, premised on their commitment to adopt market reforms and abide by the rules of those organizations. And all too often, China never followed through.
Frankly, we did an awful lot that accommodated China’s rise in the hope that communist China would become more free, more market-driven, and ultimately, hopefully more democratic.”
That approach, Pompeo seemed to imply, has failed. “Now we know… that China threatens American freedoms by demanding our companies self-censor to maintain access to that Chinese market. We’ve all seen the stories recently of the NBA. The truth is Beijing ought to be free to run its own PR campaign; they’re a sovereign nation. But if we disagree, our companies ought to be permitted to have that disagreement. Silencing dissent simply is not acceptable.
And these aren’t just our problems. They’re problems for all nations that share our values.”
Then there’s the issue of religious targeting and oppression. “We’ve seen this in Hong Kong, where they need to live up to their promises and commitments, and we’ve seen it in the gross human rights violation of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang…” The government is demanding that everyone “think and act according to the will of the Communist elites,” Pompeo warned. “That’s not a future that I want, I think it’s not a future that anyone in this room wants, it’s not a future that other democracies want, and it’s not a future that the people of China [want].”
Despite all of that, Secretary Pompeo explained, the Trump administration doesn’t want a confrontation. What they want is “a prosperous China that is at peace with its own people and with its neighbors… a liberalized China that allows the genius of its people to flourish… [and] a China that respects basic human rights of its own people, as guaranteed by its own constitution.”
That will only happen, the world knows, if leaders like this president and his team are brave enough to stand up and speak out. While this administration hammers out a massive trade agreement with China, Pompeo’s warning is clear: the innocent people of that nation won’t be forgotten.