After a whirlwind tour of Europe to build international support for a tougher policy stance on Chinese relations, and hot on the heels of the Houston consulate closure, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out his tough new policy on dealings with China. Speaking at the Richard Nixon library, it appears United States policy has come full circle. In 1972, President Nixon invited China to join the rest of the world, making good on his campaign pledge that, “There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.”
Almost 50 years later, Pompeo admitted that the present situation is not living up to the dream. “The kind of engagement we have been pursuing has not brought the kind of change inside of China that President Nixon hoped to induce,” he lamented.
Pompeo gave voice to suspicions that many Americans hold about the U.S.-Sino relationship, saying, “The truth is that our policies – and those of other free nations – resurrected China’s failing economy, only to see Beijing bite the international hands that were feeding it.” He added:
“The freedom-loving nations of the world must induce China to change … in more creative and assertive ways, because Beijing’s actions threaten our people and our prosperity.”
This message of a renewed relationship also highlighted the concerns of other nations. The secretary of state indicated that one NATO ally (whom he refused to name) is refusing to aid or speak up for Hong Kong because it is afraid of having access to Chinese markets restricted.
For some, it appears profits have taken precedence over principle.
Fiddling While Rome Burns
Politicos are well aware that China will be front and center in the upcoming election and are keen to get their swipes and platforms in early. A recent House bill that passed 413-1 sought to condemn the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province. In reality, the document is little but smoke and mirrors. The bill imposes sanctions on Chen Quanguo (the top CCP official in the region). It compels the director of national intelligence to make a list of companies involved with the building of internment camps. This may sound like a series of strong actions, but it ignores the fact that all decisions are ultimately made in Beijing.
It does not demand that such camps are closed, nor that the estimated one million souls interred be released and given freedom. Neither does it punish those who actually decide to continue the practice of forced labor. In reality, the bill is political posturing that pretends to be making a tough stance while achieving not a single thing of real value.
Pompeo’s speech appears to be the starting pistol on structural change. He said, “Whatever the reason, China today is increasingly authoritarian at home and more aggressive in its hostility to freedom abroad … President Trump has said ‘enough.'”
Who’s to Blame?
Global relations with China are failing. The Middle Kingdom is exerting its power through financial tactics while the West seeks to alter half a century of failed policy. “If the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will change us … There can be no return to past practices just because they’re comfortable or convenient,” Pompeo warned.
Has this become an ideological battle rather than one of military might or diplomatic strength? And if so, the continued reliance on China’s faux largesse in matters of tech and trade can lead to only one outcome.
As Napoleon Bonaparte famously said, “China is a sleeping lion. Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” She appears now to be wide awake, and the world would do well to take note of an old African proverb: “Do not try to fight a lion if you are not one yourself.”
Read more from Mark Angelides.