QUESTION: Well, the days and the weeks since the election have not seen a slowing of the Trump administration on the international front. State Department, under the leadership of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, continues to press on to advance the administration’s efforts overseas, American-first policy. And in particular, this is significant when it comes to religious freedom and when it comes to China.
As I shared on yesterday’s program, the State Department this week placed Nigeria on its list of Countries of Particular Concern for the first time. That designation marks the first time a democracy was placed on the list, which includes nations whose governments engage in or tolerate systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom. There’s a total of 10 countries designated that way.
The State Department also announced this week that it had blacklisted 14 Chinese officials in response to Beijing’s crackdown on opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong. Joining me now to talk about all of this is the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Mr. Secretary, welcome back to the program.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, it’s great to be with you.
QUESTION: I want to start first with your speech yesterday, which has created a little bit of a stir, because you really took this to the university campuses of America, saying that in some cases they’re being willfully duped by the Chinese Communist Party.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, I’ve made a point as my time as Secretary of State to talk to the American people about why what it is we do in the national security world, whether that’s Department of Defense, the State Department or others, why it matters, and the things that they can do and how it impacts their lives. And so one of the places I wanted to go was to an American research institution, a great place, Georgia Tech, where the Chinese Communist Party sees our research institutions as opportunities – opportunities to steal, opportunities to replace, and opportunities to repress, not only Americans but Chinese nationals studying at those institutions as well.
And so we laid out yesterday the fact pattern for how the Chinese Communist Party has essentially infiltrated these institutions of higher learning and begun to exert enormous influence there both by their presence and by their connectivity to students who are studying there, as well as by the money that they provide to these institutions.
QUESTION: And you argue that this is a threat to our freedoms. It degrades the freedoms of Americans and it threatens our national security.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, it’s very clear there are Chinese students studying in our universities who are just perfectly fine and they came here to learn and they want to make their lives better, and often they stay here in the United States and then do, in fact, work in ways that make America more free and more prosperous.
We have almost 400,000 Chinese students in an average year studying here, and too many of those have deep connections to the Chinese security apparatus, to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. We’ve seen the cases that the FBI has brought just in the last 18 months, alleging precisely this kind of activity. And our institutions of higher learning have a responsibility to protect their students, including the Chinese nationals who are studying there, and they have a responsibility to all of us that if they are receiving money from those institutions, they have a legal requirement to disclose it, and they need to make sure that they’re using these funds in a way that’s consistent with the American mission that they’re all engaged in.
QUESTION: Now, I think you’re a unique secretary of state from the standpoint of your background – a West Point grad, served in the United States Army, but prior to stepping in your role as Secretary of State, you served as the director of the CIA. So you have to look through these things through multiple lenses. When you look at the threats to America, where does China rate on that list?
SECRETARY POMPEO: From a threat to the United States of America, from an external actor, it’s not remotely close. They are the largest, most significant threat to our national security anywhere on the global stage today.
QUESTION: So when you consider how this administration – I want to talk just a moment about how under your leadership, under the leadership of President Donald Trump, religious freedom has become a number one foreign policy objective, but also you spend a lot of time addressing the issues with China. The Trump administration has on trade and other issues. Are you concerned that this “America First” policy that has brought to head – brought it to a head this relationship with China but exposed a lot of things – are you concerned that if there’s a Biden administration we’re going to revert to what would be in effect a “China First” policy?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It would be unacceptable for the American people to go back to where we were before the Trump administration came in, and I don’t mean that as a partisan attack. Frankly, there were Republican administrations before President Obama that didn’t confront China in the way that it demands to keep us all safe and prosperous.
So I’m hopeful that the American consensus that I believe is out there, that understands this risk, right – this virus that came from Wuhan, the massive violations of human rights and the religious freedom violations that are taking place in Tibet and in Mongolia and in Western China for the Uyghurs today – these things that the American people can see with their own eyes. And so I am very hopeful that whoever is sitting in the White House not only 50 days from now, but 500 days from now and 5,000 days from now, takes this threat in a way that is serious and responds in a way that will protect the American people from the Chinese Communist Party’s clear intention to have global dominance.
QUESTION: Well, you mentioned religious freedom and I want to transition to that topic now, because this is a topic you and I have talked about on this program, we’ve talked about it privately, and that is the issue of Nigeria, where there is a potential, I believe, of genocide, where you see this religious collision that is taking place between Muslims and Christians and Christians are dying.
This week for the first time, the State Department designated Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern. Explain that to our listeners.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So Tony, the State Department doesn’t make this decision lightly or without substantial factual basis for doing so. There – a lot of work went into that designation and to that analysis. We stare at the conversations that we had with the Nigerian Government. They tell us they want to get this right. We want to do everything we can to help them get this right, but there is a real burden that they face. They have to treat their citizens in a way that doesn’t treat them differently because of their faith, and today that’s simply something that has a particular concern for us, that Christians are being treated in a way inside of Nigeria that is inconsistent with that government’s responsibility.
And so we wanted to identify that. We wanted to make the world aware of the American concern about that – I am confident other nations will join us in that concern – and then we want to work alongside the leadership; not only the governmental leadership, but the civilian leadership in Nigeria and we want to eradicate this problem. We want the Nigerian people to be successful, but it can’t be the case that this kind of religious intolerance and indeed the terrible actions that have been taken against some Christians can be tolerated.
QUESTION: I mean, this is systematic, egregious violations of religious freedom that is taking place either with the government’s direct involvement or them allowing it to occur without addressing it. And so this is a – this is an established standard; it’s not arbitrary. They join a pretty bad neighborhood of actors. I mean, they – the State Department designating Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, the North Korean country, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan – all designated as Countries of Particular Concern.
With this designation, this obviously is bringing a fine point to religious freedom and the violations of it, but there’s also some bright spots in what has happened as a result of the leadership of this administration globally on religious freedom.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, it’s so true. I’m an optimist – maybe that’s because I’m a person of faith, but I am confident that the direction of travel is right and that our administration has made those countries that want to move in the right direction on religious freedom welcome. We’ve supported them; we’ve given them help in getting there. It makes their people more whole. It ceases to deny their people basic fundamental rights that makes governments more secure. So I’m optimistic.
And in the case of Nigeria in particular, I want, we want them all to move in the right direction. This is not the case that we want to call them out for the sake of punishment. We want to assist them in moving in the right direction so that next year or the year after, we won’t identify them as being a particular concern, but rather as a model for religious freedom around the world.
QUESTION: Like Sudan that came off our list.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir. Exactly.
QUESTION: So there are good, positive developments, and I attribute that in a large part to the focus that you and the Trump administration have placed on religious freedom internationally. And for that, there are people literally around the globe that have hearts of gratitude this year. Especially I think it’s significant as we move into Christmas.
Mr. Secretary, I want to thank you for joining us today. As always, great to talk with you. And if I don’t see you before, have a very Merry Christmas.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You have a blessed Christmas too, Tony. Hope you’re doing well. So long.
QUESTION: I’m doing well. All right.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bye-bye.