United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used an extraordinary appearance at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday to trumpet President Donald Trump’s hard-line approach to handling Beijing, seeking to portray the Democratic contender as a candidate who could only “talk” but not “deliver” when it came to foreign policy.
Trump had “pulled back the curtain on the predatory aggression of the Chinese Communist Party” said Pompeo, pointing to the administration’s expulsion of Chinese diplomats accused of carrying out espionage, its tearing up of a “ridiculously unfair trade agreement”, and the measures it has taken in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a pre-recorded message, Pompeo said Trump had held China accountable for “covering up” the virus and “allowing it to spread death and economic destruction in America and around the world. And he will not rest until justice is done.”
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The Trump administration has not imposed any direct punitive measures against Beijing over the coronavirus, but it has pulled the US out of the World Health Organisation (WHO) over accusations of a China bias within the United Nations body.
Pompeo said Trump’s “America first vision” had succeeded, a strategy he conceded had not made the US leader “popular in every foreign capital”. In a thinly veiled swipe at Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, he said: “The way each of us can best ensure our freedoms is by electing leaders who don’t just talk, but who deliver.”
Pompeo’s appearance at the party convention made waves even before it aired, because of its apparent blurring of long established lines between the foreign service and political campaigning. Secretaries of state generally steer clear of partisan politics to preserve their status abroad as representatives of the US rather than one of its parties.
Beamed in from Jerusalem, where he was on official business, Pompeo became the first sitting secretary of state in modern history to appear at a national convention to endorse a presidential nominee.
Under State Department rules, Senate-confirmed presidential appointees are not permitted to attend – let alone take part in – political party conventions or convention-related events.
In a recent internal advisory obtained by POLITICO, Pompeo himself warned staff that presidential appointees “may not engage in any partisan political activity in concert with a partisan campaign, political party, or partisan political group, even on personal time and outside of the federal workplace”.
Addressing scrutiny of Pompeo’s appearance at arguably the most partisan event on the political calendar, the State Department said ahead of the address that Pompeo was speaking in his “personal capacity”.
“No State Department resources will be used,” a department spokeswoman said in a statement. “Staff are not involved in preparing the remarks or in the arrangements for Secretary Pompeo's appearance.”
The spokeswoman did not respond to a follow-up question about why Pompeo’s appearance in a “personal capacity” was not in violation of his department’s rules against presidential appointees taking part in political events even when “on personal time and outside of the federal workplace”.
Earlier on Tuesday, House Democrats launched a probe into Pompeo’s participation in the Republican convention, writing to Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun demanding he share the legal analysis that department lawyers conducted to justify Pompeo’s appearance.
“This action is part of a pattern of politicisation of US foreign policy, for which President Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives, that undermines America’s standing in the world,” said Joaquin Castro of Texas, chair of the House foreign affairs committee’s oversight subcommittee and author of the letter.
“You have an administration that considers appointments to public office to be personal fiefdoms rather than a sacred trust,” said Richard Boucher, who served as consul general to Hong Kong and Macau under Bill Clinton. “Therefore they show no respect for the traditions of the office – secretaries of state don’t play in politics – nor for the example they set around the world.”
Pompeo is not the only convention speaker to have used the platform to attack China and attempt to portray Trump as the only candidate who would effectively defend the US from global threats.
Trump kicked off the week’s programming on Monday claiming that China would “own” the US if Americans elected Biden, promoting an unfounded theory that the former vice-president was beholden to Beijing because of his son’s previous business dealings in the country.
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jnr, later upped the rhetoric, calling the Democratic contender “Beijing Biden”, and emphasising a recent assessment by a top US intelligence official that the Chinese government did not favour another Trump administration.
(The younger Trump did not mention that the same official also determined that Russia was actively seeking to undermine Biden’s candidacy in favour of Trump.)
And throughout the first two of the convention’s four days, use of the term “China virus” – language that rights groups say has fuelled anti-Asian racism in the US – has continued aplenty. One such reference on Tuesday night by President Trump came during a montage promoting the effects that his administration’s policies have had on communities of colour.
More from South China Morning Post:
- US-China relations: Chinese state media steps up attacks on ‘fact-twisting’ Mike Pompeo
- ‘No God’: with apocalyptic rhetoric, Republicans stoke fear if Trump loses
- Donald Trump says China will ‘own’ US if Joe Biden wins presidential election in November
- Donald Trump banking on Republican convention ‘surprises’ to dazzle party into unity
This article Pompeo uses controversial platform at Republican convention to praise Trump’s hard line on China first appeared on South China Morning Post