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China-US relations

China hawk Mike Pompeo tipped to stiffen Trump’s tough diplomatic line on Beijing

Appointment of presidential loyalist as US secretary of state unlikely lead to any easing in tensions between the two countries, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2018, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2018, 11:14pm

The US president’s nominee for secretary of state has stoked fears among Chinese observers for the future of Beijing’s already fraught relations with Washington, renewing his criticism in his confirmation hearing over China’s expanding influence and provocations in contested waters.

Mike Pompeo’s Senate confirmation on Thursday came amid threats from both countries to slap multibillion-dollar tariffs on imports, raising the risk of an all-out trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

The hearing in Washington also came hours after China staged its biggest show of naval might in the South China Sea, and Beijing announced its navy would hold live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait next week, its first since 2015.

In his prepared remarks, Pompeo lashed out at China on issues ranging from intellectual property theft to exploiting “weak US trade policy and leeched wealth and secrets” from the United States, adding that “China continues its provocation in the South and East China seas, in cyberspace, and even in outer space”.

“Even while America has re-established a position of strength in our diplomatic relationship, China continues its concerted and coordinated effort to compete with the United States in diplomatic, military, and economic terms,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo, who is director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a known close ally of Donald Trump, was nominated by the US president last month to replace Rex Tillerson who was unceremoniously sacked in a tweet.

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If confirmed, Pompeo, widely seen as a foreign policy hawk, would become Washington’s top diplomat and Trump’s top foreign affairs adviser.

His appointment would also follow ultra-hawk John Bolton’s elevation to national security adviser.

Chinese analysts said Pompeo’s take on China, including his latest remarks during the hearing, largely matched expectations that his foreign policy approach would be more or less in line with that of Trump, who has identified Chinaas “strategic competitor”.

“Pompeo’s known hawkish stance on China, North Korea and Iran, shows that in the future, Washington will continue to take a tough diplomatic line,” said Ren Xiao, an international relations expert at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Ren said that unlike Tillerson, Pompeo was chosen by Trump because he was identified as a Trump loyalist, and his confirmation would have little impact on the overall direction the US president has laid out for the administration’s policy on China.

“Trump will continue to be heavily involved in foreign policy. So no matter whether it’s Pompeo or some other people who take up this position, it is difficult to soothe Sino-US tensions,” he said.

Du Lan, an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, also said Pompeo’s appointment as secretary of state would not ease Sino-US tensions.

“With the disputes in the South and East China seas, together with the trade tensions, we can see that the White House has formed a new consensus towards policies on China. The new secretary of state is likely to follow this line,” Du said.

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Meanwhile, in response to senators’ questions in the hearing on his future China policies, Pompeo said: “The US needs to be prepared to respond across each of those fronts [that China is challenging us on] so we can find the right ground. The right place to cooperate with the Chinese [is] where it makes sense for America, and confront them where it does not.”

On Taiwan, Pompeo said arms sales to the island were necessary and consistent with Washington’s “one China” policy, which grants diplomatic recognition to Beijing, and the Taiwan Relations Act.

“I think it’s important as much as America has done for quite some time ... we provide arms sales [which are] necessary, consistent with that one-China policy,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo, a three-term congressman from the state of Kansas, did not respond to media reports days ahead of the hearing accusing him of having hidden business ties with the Chinese government.

When he was confirmed as CIA director last year, Pompeo was required to answer a questionnaire for the Senate intelligence committee, including whether he had had any business ties to a foreign government-controlled entity in the past 10 years, to which he answered no.

However, he was found to be listed in 2007 as a co-owner of SJ Petro Pump Investment in Kansas. The company is a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned Sinopec, one of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies. In 2008, Pompeo was no longer listed as owning more than 5 per cent of the company but was still a signing member.