Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

Who’s the brain behind Mike Pompeo’s anti-China stance?

  • His principal policy and planning adviser on China, Miles Maochun Yu, harbours some pretty dark thoughts about China and Asia-Pacific
People get their ideas from somewhere. Where does US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo get his on China?

One influential source is his principal policy and planning adviser on China, Miles Maochun Yu. A China-born professor of military history at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, he harbours some pretty dark visions about the world and Asia-Pacific in particular.

Yu is clearly an uber-hawk, judging from his books, articles and speeches. On China and Asia, there seems to be two strategic conclusions on Yu’s reading of the state of affairs in the region: mixed messages and diplomatic subtleties are dangerous when it comes to dealing with “communist” countries. And in the South China Sea between the US and China, military conflict is all but inevitable.

On the first point, his 2017 article on secretary of state Dean Acheson’s “infamous” speech made in January 1950 leading to the Korean war is highly instructive. In his speech, Acheson appeared to exclude the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and Republic of China (Taiwan) from the US defence perimeter that extended from Japan’s Ryukyu Islands to the Philippines.

Pompeo meets Hong Kong’s last governor Chris Patten and activist Nathan Law in London

That led Stalin, Mao and Kim Il-sung into the mistaken belief that it was open season on South Korea. Acheson later defended himself, saying Australia and New Zealand weren’t included in the defence perimeter but clearly, the US would come to their defence against any communist aggression.

This “unfortunate” lesson from Acheson, on Yu’s telling, is that the United States must signal unambiguously that China’s aggression in the Asia-Pacific today will not be tolerated. This leads to his second conclusion: conflict is all but inevitable.

China regards much of the East and South China seas as its “backyard”. For Yu, the US must make it crystal clear that such a “revisionist” order will not be tolerated.

“China’s geopolitical and geostrategic priority is to revise or change the existing international order that has been based upon a complex system of rules, laws and customs that govern various global commons including the South China Sea,” he said in a recent interview with Foreign Policy. “Revisionism brings unavoidable confrontation.”

According to the Trump administration, previous presidents tried both sticks and carrots with China.

But for Yu and his boss Pompeo, only the stick will work with Beijing.

Now that’s a scary thought – when America’s top diplomat is not seeking diplomatic solutions but readying for war.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Who is behind Pompeo’s anti-China stance?