Communist China and the Free World’s Future
Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
Yorba Linda, California
Richard Nixon Presidential Library
Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you, Governor, for that very, very generous introduction. It is true: When you walk in that gym and you say the name “Pompeo,” there is a whisper. I had a brother, Mark, who was really good – a really good basketball player.
And how about another round of applause for the Blue Eagles Honor Guard and Senior Airman Kayla Highsmith, and her wonderful rendition of the national anthem? (Applause.)
Thank you, too, to Pastor Laurie for that moving prayer, and I want to thank Hugh Hewitt and the Nixon Foundation for your invitation to speak at this important American institution. It was great to be sung to by an Air Force person, introduced by a Marine, and they let the Army guy in in front of the Navy guy’s house. (Laughter.) It’s all good.
It’s an honor to be here in Yorba Linda, where Nixon’s father built the house in which he was born and raised.
To all the Nixon Center board and staff who made today possible – it’s difficult in these times – thanks for making this day possible for me and for my team.
We are blessed to have some incredibly special people in the audience, including Chris, who I’ve gotten to know – Chris Nixon. I also want to thank Tricia Nixon and Julie Nixon Eisenhower for their support of this visit as well.
I want to recognize several courageous Chinese dissidents who have joined us here today and made a long trip.
And to all the other distinguished guests – (applause) – to all the other distinguished guests, thank you for being here. For those of you who got under the tent, you must have paid extra.
And those of you watching live, thank you for tuning in.
And finally, as the governor mentioned, I was born here in Santa Ana, not very far from here. I’ve got my sister and her husband in the audience today. Thank you all for coming out. I bet you never thought that I’d be standing up here.
My remarks today are the fourth set of remarks in a series of China speeches that I asked National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, FBI Director Chris Wray, and the Attorney General Barr to deliver alongside me.
We had a very clear purpose, a real mission. It was to explain the different facets of America’s relationship with China, the massive imbalances in that relationship that have built up over decades, and the Chinese Communist Party’s designs for hegemony.
Our goal was to make clear that the threats to Americans that President Trump’s China policy aims to address are clear and our strategy for securing those freedoms established.
Ambassador O’Brien spoke about ideology. FBI Director Wray talked about espionage. Attorney General Barr spoke about economics. And now my goal today is to put it all together for the American people and detail what the China threat means for our economy, for our liberty, and indeed for the future of free democracies around the world.
Next year marks half a century since Dr. Kissinger’s secret mission to China, and the 50th anniversary of President Nixon’s trip isn’t too far away in 2022.
The world was much different then.
We imagined engagement with China would produce a future with bright promise of comity and cooperation.
But today – today we’re all still wearing masks and watching the pandemic’s body count rise because the CCP failed in its promises to the world. We’re reading every morning new headlines of repression in Hong Kong and in Xinjiang.
We’re seeing staggering statistics of Chinese trade abuses that cost American jobs and strike enormous blows to the economies all across America, including here in southern California. And we’re watching a Chinese military that grows stronger and stronger, and indeed more menacing.
I’ll echo the questions ringing in the hearts and minds of Americans from here in California to my home state of Kansas and beyond:
What do the American people have to show now 50 years on from engagement with China?
Did the theories of our leaders that proposed a Chinese evolution towards freedom and democracy prove to be true?
Is this China’s definition of a win-win situation?
And indeed, centrally, from the Secretary of State’s perspective, is America safer? Do we have a greater likelihood of peace for ourselves and peace for the generations which will follow us?
Look, we have to admit a hard truth. We must admit a hard truth that should guide us in the years and decades to come, that if we want to have a free 21st century, and not the Chinese century of which Xi Jinping dreams, the old paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won’t get it done. We must not continue it and we must not return to it.
As President Trump has made very clear, we need a strategy that protects the American economy, and indeed our way of life. The free world must triumph over this new tyranny.
Now, before I seem too eager to tear down President Nixon’s legacy, I want to be clear that he did what he believed was best for the American people at the time, and he may well have been right.
He was a brilliant student of China, a fierce cold warrior, and a tremendous admirer of the Chinese people, just as I think we all are.
He deserves enormous credit for realizing that China was too important to be ignored, even when the nation was weakened because of its own self-inflicted communist brutality.
In 1967, in a very famous Foreign Affairs article, Nixon explained his future strategy. Here’s what he said:
He said, “Taking the long view, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside of the family of nations…The world cannot be safe until China changes. Thus, our aim – to the extent we can, we must influence events. Our goal should be to induce change.”
And I think that’s the key phrase from the entire article: “to induce change.”
So, with that historic trip to Beijing, President Nixon kicked off our engagement strategy. He nobly sought a freer and safer world, and he hoped that the Chinese Communist Party would return that commitment.
As time went on, American policymakers increasingly presumed that as China became more prosperous, it would open up, it would become freer at home, and indeed present less of a threat abroad, it’d be friendlier. It all seemed, I am sure, so inevitable.
But that age of inevitability is over. The kind of engagement we have been pursuing has not brought the kind of change inside of China that President Nixon had hoped to induce.
The truth is that our policies – and those of other free nations – resurrected China’s failing economy, only to see Beijing bite the international hands that were feeding it.
We opened our arms to Chinese citizens, only to see the Chinese Communist Party exploit our free and open society. China sent propagandists into our press conferences, our research centers, our high-schools, our colleges, and even into our PTA meetings.
We marginalized our friends in Taiwan, which later blossomed into a vigorous democracy.
We gave the Chinese Communist Party and the regime itself special economic treatment, only to see the CCP insist on silence over its human rights abuses as the price of admission for Western companies entering China.
Ambassador O’Brien ticked off a few examples just the other day: Marriott, American Airlines, Delta, United all removed references to Taiwan from their corporate websites, so as not to anger Beijing.
In Hollywood, not too far from here – the epicenter of American creative freedom, and self-appointed arbiters of social justice – self-censors even the most mildly unfavorable reference to China.
This corporate acquiescence to the CCP happens all over the world, too.
And how has this corporate fealty worked? Is its flattery rewarded? I’ll give you a quote from the speech that General Barr gave, Attorney General Barr. In a speech last week, he said that “The ultimate ambition of China’s rulers isn’t to trade with the United States. It is to raid the United States.”
China ripped off our prized intellectual property and trade secrets, causing millions of jobs all across America.
It sucked supply chains away from America, and then added a widget made of slave labor.
It made the world’s key waterways less safe for international commerce.
President Nixon once said he feared he had created a “Frankenstein” by opening the world to the CCP, and here we are.
Now, people of good faith can debate why free nations allowed these bad things to happen for all these years. Perhaps we were naive about China’s virulent strain of communism, or triumphalist after our victory in the Cold War, or cravenly capitalist, or hoodwinked by Beijing’s talk of a “peaceful rise.”
Whatever the reason – whatever the reason, today China is increasingly authoritarian at home, and more aggressive in its hostility to freedom everywhere else.
And President Trump has said: enough.
I don’t think many people on either side of the aisle dispute the facts that I have laid out today. But even now, some are insisting that we preserve the model of dialogue for dialogue’s sake.
Now, to be clear, we’ll keep on talking. But the conversations are different these days. I traveled to Honolulu now just a few weeks back to meet with Yang Jiechi.
It was the same old story – plenty of words, but literally no offer to change any of the behaviors.
Yang’s promises, like so many the CCP made before him, were empty. His expectations, I surmise, were that I’d cave to their demands, because frankly this is what too many prior administrations have done. I didn’t, and President Trump will not either.
As Ambassador O’Brien explained so well, we have to keep in mind that the CCP regime is a Marxist-Leninist regime. General Secretary Xi Jinping is a true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology.
It’s this ideology, it’s this ideology that informs his decades-long desire for global hegemony of Chinese communism. America can no longer ignore the fundamental political and ideological differences between our countries, just as the CCP has never ignored them.
My experience in the House Intelligence Committee, and then as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and my now two-plus years as America’s Secretary of State have led me to this central understanding:
That the only way – the only way to truly change communist China is to act not on the basis of what Chinese leaders say, but how they behave. And you can see American policy responding to this conclusion. President Reagan said that he dealt with the Soviet Union on the basis of “trust but verify.” When it comes to the CCP, I say we must distrust and verify. (Applause.)
We, the freedom-loving nations of the world, must induce China to change, just as President Nixon wanted. We must induce China to change in more creative and assertive ways, because Beijing’s actions threaten our people and our prosperity.
We must start by changing how our people and our partners perceive the Chinese Communist Party. We have to tell the truth. We can’t treat this incarnation of China as a normal country, just like any other.
We know that trading with China is not like trading with a normal, law-abiding nation. Beijing threatens international agreements as – treats international suggestions as – or agreements as suggestions, as conduits for global dominance.
But by insisting on fair terms, as our trade representative did when he secured our phase one trade deal, we can force China to reckon with its intellectual property theft and policies that harmed American workers.
We know too that doing business with a CCP-backed company is not the same as doing business with, say, a Canadian company. They don’t answer to independent boards, and many of them are state-sponsored and so have no need to pursue profits.
A good example is Huawei. We stopped pretending Huawei is an innocent telecommunications company that’s just showing up to make sure you can talk to your friends. We’ve called it what it is – a true national security threat – and we’ve taken action accordingly.
We know too that if our companies invest in China, they may wittingly or unwittingly support the Communist Party’s gross human rights violations.
Our Departments of Treasury and Commerce have thus sanctioned and blacklisted Chinese leaders and entities that are harming and abusing the most basic rights for people all across the world. Several agencies have worked together on a business advisory to make certain our CEOs are informed of how their supply chains are behaving inside of China.
We know too, we know too that not all Chinese students and employees are just normal students and workers that are coming here to make a little bit of money and to garner themselves some knowledge. Too many of them come here to steal our intellectual property and to take this back to their country.
The Department of Justice and other agencies have vigorously pursued punishment for these crimes.
We know that the People’s Liberation Army is not a normal army, too. 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.
And so our Department of Defense has ramped up its efforts, freedom of navigation operations out and throughout the East and South China Seas, and in the Taiwan Strait as well. And we’ve created a Space Force to help deter China from aggression on that final frontier.
And so too, frankly, we’ve built out a new set of policies at the State Department dealing with China, pushing President Trump’s goals for fairness and reciprocity, to rewrite the imbalances that have grown over decades.
Just this week, we announced the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston because it was a hub of spying and intellectual property theft. (Applause.)
We reversed, two weeks ago, eight years of cheek-turning with respect to international law in the South China Sea.
We’ve called on China to conform its nuclear capabilities to the strategic realities of our time.
And the State Department – at every level, all across the world – has engaged with our Chinese counterparts simply to demand fairness and reciprocity.
But our approach can’t just be about getting tough. That’s unlikely to achieve the outcome that we desire. We must also engage and empower the Chinese people – a dynamic, freedom-loving people who are completely distinct from the Chinese Communist Party.
That begins with in-person diplomacy. (Applause.) I’ve met Chinese men and women of great talent and diligence wherever I go.
I’ve met with Uyghurs and ethnic Kazakhs who escaped Xinjiang’s concentration camps. I’ve talked with Hong Kong’s democracy leaders, from Cardinal Zen to Jimmy Lai. Two days ago in London, I met with Hong Kong freedom fighter Nathan Law.
And last month in my office, I heard the stories of Tiananmen Square survivors. One of them is here today.
Wang Dan was a key student who has never stopped fighting for freedom for the Chinese people. Mr. Wang, will you please stand so that we may recognize you? (Applause.)
Also with us today is the father of the Chinese democracy movement, Wei Jingsheng. He spent decades in Chinese labor camps for his advocacy. Mr. Wei, will you please stand? (Applause.)
I grew up and served my time in the Army during the Cold War. And if there is one thing I learned, 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.
Quite the contrary. The CCP fears the Chinese people’s honest opinions more than any foe, and save for losing their own grip on power, they have reason – no reason to.
Just think how much better off the world would be – not to mention the people inside of China – if we had been able to hear from the doctors in Wuhan and they’d been allowed to raise the alarm about the outbreak of a new and novel virus.
For too many decades, our leaders have ignored, downplayed the words of brave Chinese dissidents who warned us about the nature of the regime we’re facing.
And we can’t ignore it any longer. They know as well as anyone that we can never go back to the status quo.
But changing the CCP’s behavior cannot be the mission of the Chinese people alone. Free nations have to work to defend freedom. It’s the furthest thing from easy.
But I have faith we can do it. I have faith because we’ve done it before. We know how this goes.
I have faith because the CCP is repeating some of the same mistakes that the Soviet Union made – alienating potential allies, breaking trust at home and abroad, rejecting property rights and predictable rule of law.
I have faith. I have faith because of the awakening I see among other nations that know we can’t go back to the past in the same way that we do here in America. I’ve heard this from Brussels, to Sydney, to Hanoi.
And most of all, I have faith we can defend freedom because of the sweet appeal of freedom itself.
Look at the Hong Kongers clamoring to emigrate abroad as the CCP tightens its grip on that proud city. They wave American flags.
It’s true, there are differences. Unlike the Soviet Union, China is deeply integrated into the global economy. But Beijing is more dependent on us than we are on them. (Applause.)
Look, I reject the notion that we’re living in an age of inevitability, that some trap is pre-ordained, that CCP supremacy is the future. Our approach isn’t destined to fail because America is in decline. As I said in Munich earlier this year, the free world is still winning. We just need to believe it and know it and be proud of it. People from all over the world still want to come to open societies. They come here to study, they come here to work, they come here to build a life for their families. They’re not desperate to settle in China.
It’s time. It’s great to be here today. The timing is perfect. It’s time for free nations to act. Not every nation will approach China in the same way, nor should they. Every nation will have to come to its own understanding of how to protect its own sovereignty, how to protect its own economic prosperity, and how to protect its ideals from the tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party.
But I call on every leader of every nation to start by doing what America has done – to simply insist on reciprocity, to insist on transparency and accountability from the Chinese Communist Party. It’s a cadre of rulers that are far from homogeneous.
And these simple and powerful standards will achieve a great deal. 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.
We have to draw common lines in the sand that cannot be washed away by the CCP’s bargains or their blandishments. Indeed, this is what the United States did recently when we rejected China’s unlawful claims in the South China Sea once and for all, as we have urged countries to become Clean Countries so that their citizens’ private information doesn’t end up in the hand of the Chinese Communist Party. We did it by setting standards.
Now, it’s true, it’s difficult. It’s difficult for some small countries. They fear being picked off. Some of them for that reason simply don’t have the ability, the courage to stand with us for the moment.
Indeed, we have a NATO ally of ours that hasn’t stood up in the way that it needs to with respect to Hong Kong because they fear Beijing will restrict access to China’s market. This is the kind of timidity that will lead to historic failure, and we can’t repeat it.
We cannot repeat the mistakes of these past years. The challenge of China demands exertion, energy from democracies – those in Europe, those in Africa, those in South America, and especially those in the Indo-Pacific region.
And if 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.
General Secretary Xi is not destined to tyrannize inside and outside of China forever, unless we allow it.
Now, this isn’t about containment. Don’t buy that. It’s about a complex new challenge that we’ve never faced before. The USSR was closed off from the free world. Communist China is already within our borders.
So we can’t face this challenge alone. The United Nations, NATO, the G7 countries, the G20, our combined economic, diplomatic, and military power is surely enough to meet this challenge if we direct it clearly and with great courage.
Maybe it’s time for a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies.
We have the tools. I know we can do it. Now we need the will. To quote scripture, I ask is “our spirit willing but our flesh weak?”
If the free world doesn’t change – doesn’t change, communist China will surely change us. There can’t be a return to the past practices because they’re comfortable or because they’re convenient.
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.
As I explained in Philadelphia last week, standing, staring at Independence Hall, our 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.
Indeed, Richard Nixon was right when he wrote in 1967 that “the world cannot be safe until China changes.” Now it’s up to us to heed his words.
Today the danger is clear.
And today the awakening is happening.
Today the free world must respond.
We can never go back to the past.
May God bless each of you.
May God bless the Chinese people.
And may God bless the people of the United States of America.
Thank you all.
Speeches by Secretary Michael R. Pompeo on China
Europe and the China Challenge
U.S. States and the China Competition
Silicon Valley and National Security
The China Challenge
Senior U.S. Government Officials on China Policy
China’s Attempt To Influence U.S. Institutions