Is Pompeo Trying To Make China Into the New Soviet Union?

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a news conference at the State Department in Washington, U.S. August 5, 2020. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool via Reuters
August 17, 2020 Topic: Politics Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: ChinaCold WarGreat Power CompetitionSoviet UnionMike Pompeo

Is Pompeo Trying To Make China Into the New Soviet Union?

This is not the first time that America has launched such a provocatively worded policy against its main adversary. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan made his infamous ‘evil empire’ speech.


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a landmark speech on 23 July titled ‘Communist China and the free world’s future’ in which he made it plain that China was now America’s main national security threat. The central theme of his speech was the Chinese Communist Party’s—not the Chinese people’s—designs for global hegemony.

This was clearly a well-prepared and strongly positioned speech. Pompeo said that it was the fourth in a series of China speeches; the other three were delivered by National Security Adviser Robert O’BrienFBI Director Chris Wray and Attorney General William Barr. All this points to a coordinated position in the US administration on the threat from China.


However, the question now is, can we work on the principle that President Donald Trump is of the same view? Pompeo’s speech was mainly about the ideological threat from China’s communism, whereas Trump is much more focused on transactional issues, such as trade and business. Even so, neither Beijing nor the rest of us can afford to dismiss this speech.

The following is a selection of some of the more important assertions by Pompeo:

  • He said that his mission was to explain to the American people ‘what the China threat means for our economy, for our liberty, and indeed for the future of free democracies around the world’.

  • We are watching a Chinese military ‘that grows stronger and stronger, and indeed more menacing’.

  • If we want to have a free 21st century, ‘the old paradigms of blind engagement with China simply won’t get it done’.

  • ‘The free world must triumph over this new tyranny.’

  • ‘We opened our arms to Chinese citizens, only to see the Chinese Communist Party exploit our free and open society.’

  • Barr has said that ‘The ultimate ambition of China’s rulers isn’t to trade with United States. It is to raid the United States.’

  • ‘Perhaps we were naive about China’s virulent strain of communism … or hoodwinked by Beijing’s talk of a “peaceful rise”.’

  • ‘China is increasingly authoritarian at home, and more aggressive in its hostility to freedom everywhere else. And President Trump has now said: enough.’

  • ‘General Secretary Xi Jinping is a true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology.’

  • ‘[I]t’s this ideology that informs his decades-long desire for global hegemony of Chinese communism.’

  • ‘We, the freedom-loving nations of the world, must induce China to change … because Beijing’s actions threaten our people and our prosperity.’

  • ‘We can’t treat this incarnation of China as a normal country, just like any other.’

  • ‘We know that the People’s Liberation Army is not a normal army … Its purpose is to uphold the absolute rule of the Chinese Communist Party elites and expand a Chinese empire, not to protect the Chinese people.’

  • ‘We must also engage and empower the Chinese people—a dynamic, freedom-loving people who are completely distinct from the Chinese Communist Party.’

  • Growing up during the Cold War taught him that ‘communists almost always lie. The biggest lie that they tell is to think that they speak for 1.4 billion people who are surveilled, oppressed, and scared to speak out.’

  • ‘The CCP fears the Chinese people’s honest opinions more than any foe.’

  • ‘But Beijing is more dependent on us than we are on them … The timing is perfect. It’s time for free nations to act.’

  • ‘For too long we let the CCP set the terms of engagement, but no longer. Free nations must set the tone. We must operate on the same principles.’

  • ‘[I]f we don’t act now, ultimately the CCP will erode our freedoms and subvert the rules-based order that our societies have worked so hard to build. If we bend the knee now, our children’s children may be at the mercy of the Chinese Communist Party, whose actions are the primary challenge today in the free world.’

  • ‘Now, this isn’t about containment … It’s about a complex new challenge that we’ve never faced before.’

  • ‘[W]e can’t face this challenge alone … Maybe it’s time for a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies.’

  • ‘If the free world doesn’t change, communist China will surely change us.’

  • ‘Securing our freedoms from the Chinese Communist Party is the mission of our time, and America is perfectly positioned to lead it because our founding principles give us that opportunity.’’

  • ‘[O]ur nation was founded on the premise that all human beings possess certain rights that are unalienable. And it’s our government’s job to secure those rights. It is a simple and powerful truth. It’s made us a beacon of freedom for people all around the world, including people inside of China.’

Some of the reactions to the Pompeo speech in Australia have been to describe it as ‘scary’, whereas others consider it was a compelling assessment of China. The fact is that Beijing has now been plainly informed by the US that the relationship has changed and that it can expect much more forceful responses from Washington in future.

This is not the first time that America has launched such a provocatively worded policy against its main adversary. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan made his infamous ‘evil empire’ speech, which identified the Soviet Union as ‘the focus of evil in the modern world’ and characterised the US conflict with the USSR as a battle between good and evil. Some commentators believe that Reagan’s speech and his subsequent ‘Star Wars’ threat laid the groundwork for the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.

But nobody should expect the Australian government to endorse Pompeo’s speech or use his ideological language. Indeed, at the recent AUSMIN meeting, which occurred five days after the speech, Foreign Minister Marise Payne made it plain that Australia’s positions on China are our own and ‘we make our own decisions, our own judgements in the Australian national interest’. Even so, careful scrutiny of the joint AUSMIN statement reveals that it is overwhelmingly about both the coercive and the assertive threats from China.

This article by Paul Dibb first appeared in The Strategist on August 13, 2020.

Image: Reuters.