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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday accused China of trying to foment unrest in the United States through its criticism of racism.
Pompeo, known for his hawkish views on China, went on the attack on Beijing in an unusual address to state lawmakers in Wisconsin, a crucial swing state in November's presidential election.
The Chinese Communist Party "thinks it can drown out American cries for accountability with shouts of racism," Pompeo told lawmakers from his Republican Party inside the state Capitol in Madison.
"The CCP wants to foment the kind of strife we've seen in Minneapolis, and Portland and Kenosha," he said, referring to three cities that have seen protests over racism and police brutality in recent months.
"That's disgusting. We can't let it happen," he said.
As evidence of China's intentions, Pompeo pointed to a letter from a Chinese diplomat to a lawmaker from Wisconsin.
The letter said that Beijing was "firmly opposed to racial discrimination and xenophobia" against the Chinese community in the United States over the coronavirus crisis.
"They want you to believe that America's righteous anger at the CCP over its handling of the coronavirus has something to do with race. It does not," Pompeo said.
"It has everything to do with citizens who are no longer with us, children who are not able to go back to school and jobs that have been lost," Pompeo said.
"The CCP knows this."
President Donald Trump has alarmed not only China but many Asian Americans by referring to the "China virus," a term that health experts call stigmatizing.
The United States frequently assails China's human rights record including over its incarceration, according to witnesses and activists, of more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang.
China's official media eagerly returned criticism after the May killing of African American George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which has sparked global protests and renewed attention to racism.
- Backing Taiwan -
Taiwanese representatives traveled to Madison for Pompeo's address, in which he offered strong support for the island.
China frequently pushes local US leaders to shun Taiwan, a self-governing democracy and economic power that Beijing considers a province awaiting reunification.
"When you are approached by a Chinese diplomat, it is likely not in the spirit of true cooperation or friendship," Pompeo said.
"You can ignore CCP threats and encourage mayors and businesspeople to engage with a free and democratic Taiwan."
China voiced anger last week and carried out military exercises after a senior State Department official visited Taiwan for the funeral of president Lee Teng-hui.
The United States recognizes only Beijing but maintains close but unofficial relations with Taiwan, where China's nationalists fled in 1949 after losing the mainland's civil war.