Pompeo’s warning to governors puts White House China policy in context

The Trump Administration’s outspokenness against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not to exploit the coronavirus pandemic, as some CCP sources allege. It began two years ago as it recognized the far greater strategic threat the Chinese regime presents to the United States and the world.

The CCP has been attacking the United States at the national, state, and local levels on a very systematic basis for years.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General Bob Barr, and others have given many well-prepared speeches, vetted at the interagency level, about the CCP’s dangers, but few in the media have really picked up on them.

Pompeo’s warning to state governors. One of several important speeches was Pompeo’s February 8 warning to state governors about how the Chinese Communist Party is targeting them personally, their teams, and everything possible in their own states. The coronavirus outbreak had not been declared a pandemic yet.

The speech is astonishing and of historic proportions. Pompeo carefully describes to the governors about what the CCP is doing in America at the state and local levels, and among businesses and universities, by getting Americans to toe the party line or suffer the consequences.

Pompeo’s warning to governors is part of a larger interagency effort that the Trump Administration began in 2018 and 2019. The entire speech is an excellent read – not only for its information, but on how a senior Trump administration official can give a speech to a bipartisan audience that includes powerful political rivals.

Here are Pompeo’s key points, and there are a lot of them:

  • Pompeo warns of US governors of CCP front activity on state level. “Last year, I received an invitation to an event that promised to be, quote, ‘an occasion for exclusive deal-making.’ It said, quote, ‘the opportunities for mutually beneficial economic development between China and our individual states [are] tremendous,’ end of quote.”
    • ‘Collaboration summit’ targets state governors. “Deal-making sounds like it might have come from President Trump, but the invitation was actually from a former governor. I was being invited to the US-China Governors’ Collaboration Summit. It was an event co-hosted by the National Governors Association and something called the Chinese People’s Association For Friendship and Foreign Countries. Sounds pretty harmless.”
      • Pompeo asks governors if they were approached. “What the invitation did not say is that the group – the group I just mentioned – is the public face of the Chinese Communist Party’s official foreign influence agency, the United Front Work Department. Now, I was lucky. I was familiar with that organization from my time as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
        • “But it got me thinking. How many of you made the link between that group and Chinese Communist Party officials?
        • “What if you made a new friend while you were at that event?
        • “What if your new friend asked you for introductions to other politically connected and powerful people?
        • “What if your new friend offered to invest big money in your state, perhaps in your pension, in industries sensitive to our national security?”
      • CCP rates American governors. “These aren’t hypotheticals. These scenarios are all too true, and they impact American foreign policy significantly.
        • “Indeed, last year, a Chinese Government-backed think tank in Beijing produced a report that assessed all 50 of America’s governors on their attitudes towards China. They labeled each of you ‘friendly,’ ‘hardline,’ or ‘ambiguous.’
        • “I’ll let you decide where you think you belong. Someone in China already has. Many of you, indeed, in that report are referenced by name.
      • CCP is targeting each state in America. “So here’s the lesson: The lesson is that competition with China is not just a federal issue. It’s why I wanted to be here today, Governor Hogan. It’s happening in your states with consequences for our foreign policy, for the citizens that reside in your states, and indeed, for each of you.”
        • Your teams have been targeted. “And, in fact, whether you are viewed by the CCP as friendly or hardline, know that it’s working you, know that it’s working the team around you.
        • National security implications. “Competition with China is happening inside of your state, and it affects our capacity to perform America’s vital national security functions.”
    • Xi Jinping is moving China backward. “. . . under Xi Jinping, the country is moving exactly in the opposite direction – more repression, more unfair competition, more predatory economic practices; indeed, a more aggressive military posture as well.”
    • US economic ties with China are good. Pompeo is not being isolationist: “these economic ties are powerful. They’re important and good. They’re good for your state; they’re good for America.”
    • Can’t ignore PRC’s ‘actions and strategic intentions.’  “. . . while there are places we can cooperate, we can’t ignore China’s actions and strategic intentions. If we do, we risk the important components of our relationship that benefit both countries.
      • Beijing has assessed our vulnerabilities at all levels & exploits them. “The Chinese Government has been methodical in the way it’s analyzed our system, our very open system, one that we’re deeply proud of. It’s assessed our vulnerabilities, and it’s decided to exploit our freedoms to gain advantage over us at the federal level, the state level, and the local level.
      • Pompeo is continuing a theme he began in 2019. “Last year, I announced that I would give a series of speeches on China, and this is part of that. It’s the context in which state and local government officials ought to think about the way they lead with respect to our relationship. It’s important. China matters. It’s been part of my mission at the State Department to mobilize all parts of the United States Government.”
    • China is pressuring state politicians, blackmailing governors & spying on state universities. Pompeo gives examples of how the PRC pressures state elected officials, blackmails governors with threats to pull investments out of their states unless they obey CCP policies, spies on state universities, sends Chinese students to spy at universities, and more. He speaks at length about Confucius Institutes on college campuses. Pompeo’s remarks are very detailed and beyond the scope of this chronology.
    • US wants Chinese students here, as long as they’re not working for CCP. “Make no mistake about it: We want talented, young Chinese students to come study in the United States of America. I see it at Wichita State University. These are wonderful young people. We ought to encourage them to be here. But they shouldn’t have to fear the long arm of Beijing, which often reaches out via groups like the Chinese Students and Scholars Association.”
    • Governors should not allow state pension funds to invest in CCP industries. “I know you all have power over pension funds or the people that run them. As of its latest public filing, the Florida Retirement System is invested in a company that in turn is invested in surveillance gear that the Chinese Communist Party uses to track more than 1 million Muslim minorities. California’s pension fund, the largest public pension fund in the country, is invested in companies that supply the People’s Liberation Army that puts our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines at risk.”
    • Governors can make deals in China, but should work with feds. “There are federal officials prepared to help you work your way through these challenges when they arise. Don’t make separate individual deals and agreements with China that undermine our national policy. I know none of you would do so intentionally. Let us help you make sure we’re getting it right.”
    • Reciprocity with China. “We have directed two Chinese propaganda outlets, the Chinese Global Television Network and Xinhua News Agency, to register as foreign agents. And we at the State Department have started to require Chinese diplomats to apply – comply with the same rules we comply with when we’re in China. Chinese diplomats now must notify the State Department in advance of official meetings with state and local officials. They must declare their official visits to U.S. educational and research institutions as well. This is just fairness, reciprocity, basic common sense. This is not an onerous restriction to put on China.”

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About J. Michael Waller

J. Michael Waller is Senior Analyst for Strategy at the Center for Security Policy. His areas of concentration are propaganda, political warfare, psychological warfare, and subversion. He is the former Walter and Leonore Annenberg Professor of International Communication at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school in Washington, DC. A former instructor with the Naval Postgraduate School, he is an instructor/lecturer at the John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg.