US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on American state governments to reject appeals from China for closer ties and asked them to cooperate more with Taiwan.
Warning about Beijing’s attempts to sidestep road blocks erected by Washington on the federal level, Pompeo told state lawmakers in Madison, Wisconsin, that overtures from Chinese diplomats, Chinese nationals or “Americans working with [Chinese Communist Party]-linked interests” were often part of a plot to further “Beijing’s form of authoritarianism”.
Chinese President Xi Jinping “knows that the federal government is pushing back against the CCP’s malign influence. He sees that here in the US, and increasingly around the world”, Pompeo said. “General Secretary Xi thinks you’re the weak link.”
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The warning comes just weeks after Pompeo’s department ordered Chinese diplomats in the US to seek permission before meeting with local government officials or visiting university campuses, a move that he said was made to match restrictions that American diplomats face in China.
The top US diplomat cited entreaties this year by an official from China’s Chicago consulate to Wisconsin Senate President Roger Roth for his chamber to pass a resolution praising Beijing’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic as an example of attempts to co-opt state-level officials.
He called these efforts “a much more sinister vision of engagement” compared with initiatives by other countries to burnish their image overseas, such as France’s Alliance Français language and culture schools.
US accusations that China deliberately delayed warning the world about the novel coronavirus have further strained a relationship already damaged by a trade war that US President Donald Trump started more than two years ago.
Trump made China’s alleged culpability for the pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans, a key theme of his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, further inflaming tensions.
Pompeo also cited the case of a New York City police officer charged with acting as an agent for China as an example of Beijing’s covert efforts to undermine US interests. The federal indictment of Baimadajie Angwang – a naturalised US citizen who is accused of spying on fellow ethnic Tibetans in New York – was unsealed on Monday.
The secretary of state called on the Wisconsin lawmakers to adopt a number of measures to check Beijing’s influence, including “laws to codify closer cooperation with federal agencies in [intellectual property] protection, investment screening and counter-infiltration operations”.
After welcoming local representatives of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office of Chicago to his speech, Pompeo also asked the lawmakers to “ignore CCP threats, and encourage mayors and businesspeople to engage with a free and democratic Taiwan”.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office is Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the US. Washington does not have official diplomatic relations with the self-ruled island.
Pompeo also suggested that funds managed by the Wisconsin Retirement System for state and local government employees be divested of holdings in two of China’s largest telecom companies.
“As of its last report the Wisconsin Retirement System was invested in China Mobile and China Telecom,” he said. “Both are state-owned giants and they’re an integral part of the Chinese Orwellian surveillance system. Do you want your teachers, firefighters, your policeman invested in those kinds of activities?”
China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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