Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
QUESTION: I am joined now by the United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to The Hugh Hewitt Show.
QUESTION: Hugh, it’s great to be with you this morning.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Chinese Communist Party has a mouthpiece, the Global Times, which has a lead editorial today: China to respond to U.S. provocations in next 10 days, which concluded, and I want to quote, Mr. Secretary, “We would rather face a Taiwan Straits crisis, even a storm, in the next 10 days if Pompeo and his likes become more aggressive and provocative before leaving office. The crisis will teach Taiwan secessionists a lesson and nail Pompeo and his likes to the pillar of shame. Even if this will cause a shock to China-U.S. relations during the period of power change in the U.S., it will bring more benefits to the normal development of bilateral relations in the long term,” end of quote. Mr. Secretary, are we on the cusp of a crisis with China?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, this is the kind of language that the Chinese Communist Party has been using for an awfully long time now. Everything that President Trump and our administration has done with respect to the Taiwan issue in particular is deeply consistent with a series of agreements over an awfully long time. All we have asked is that the Chinese Communist Party continue to adhere to the “one China” policy and the Three Communiques as well.
We’re in conversations with the Chinese Communist Party about it, but all – they’re reacting to a decision about a series of events, which includes so much as just simply allowing the continuation of unofficial visits between Americans and Taiwanese with a set of rules that we apply to every other nation. This has been President Trump’s policy with respect to China more broadly. All we ask for is fairness, reciprocity, an even-handed way of dealing with each other. It’s appropriate that the Trump administration continue to demand that.
QUESTION: Have you discussed with President Trump how the U.S. will respond to any provocation by General Secretary Xi in next 10 days if one occurs?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I never disclose conversations with President Trump, but this has been a conversation that is now coming on four years, Hugh, about how the United States will respond to every action, right? The President began by tackling the challenge of the economic in – disparity between the way the two nations interacted. We then worked hard with respect to the Wuhan virus to demand transparency, fairness, reciprocity, the central tenets of relationship with the United States and China. I don’t expect that will change.
QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft is going to arrive in Taiwan tomorrow. What sort of provocation do you think General Secretary Xi is capable of ordering?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, Hugh, I never speculate in that way.
QUESTION: Okay, well, would anything that happens, in your view, happen as a result of a direct order from General Secretary Xi?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, nearly everything, certainly anything of significance that takes place, certainly in the sphere of security and military activity, certainly extends to the Military-Civil Fusion program as well. Those actions are highly centralized, highly controlled, and emanate from the leader of the Chinese Communist Party Xi – General Secretary General Secretary Xi Jinping.
QUESTION: So a very respected navalist who’s a friend of mine, Captain Jerry Hendrix, retired, has written that he expects a, quote, “shouldering” incident soon, where a People’s Liberation Army Navy ship shoulders a United States Navy ship. Have you discussed with the President or the Vice President, Defense Secretary Miller, Ambassador O’Brien, or DNI Ratcliffe how we would respond to such an incident? I know you don’t speculate, but —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
QUESTION: — has it been war-gamed?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, we’ve – military folks prepare for every potential challenge that they face. They’ve had these kinds of events before with respect to Iran and others. I am confident that the Department of Defense knows how to respond in the event that they are challenged.
QUESTION: At a very important speech at the Nixon Library this summer, and that’s self-serving because I was sitting next to you, you stated that, quote, “We marginalized our friends in Taiwan, which later blossomed into a vigorous democracy,” close quote. Ambassador Craft will be the third senior official of the team Trump to visit. Should these visits continue in the Biden administration?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We should continue to have interactions with Taiwan in a way that is permitted under the “one China” policy. One of the things I said over the weekend was what we’ve done before, is that the Chinese exercise a rhetorical flourish or they challenge us, and we walk away from the things that we promised that we would do. Indeed, we have legislative requirements, statutory requirements, things that are in law that the United States simply hasn’t done on its own. It’s bent its knee to China. We ought not do that.
These actions aren’t provocative. They aren’t intended in that way. They are intended to fulfill the commitments that we have made to all the parties in the region, to the Chinese Communist Party in particular, part of the “one China” policy. We will live up to our promises. We will live up to our commitments. We will do so in a way that is appropriate and we – all we ask is that the Chinese Communist Party fulfill the promises that it has made to not only the United States, but to the world for all these years.
QUESTION: If you’re invited to Taiwan post-transition, will you accept?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh – (laughter) – I’ve spent the last six months refusing to talk about what I’m going to do after I’m Secretary of State.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Fair enough.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t intend to change that this morning.
QUESTION: Fair. All right, let me ask you about President-elect Biden. Do you expect him to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party or sit down? Because after – he’s financed by Hollywood and big tech, and they are compromised by the Chinese Communist Party.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think the world, and that includes the American people, will continue to demand that the United States secure freedoms for them, and that includes pushing back against the challenge of our time. That is the challenge of the Chinese Communist Party and its capacity and intention to expand its influence and ultimately deliver a world that is very different, one not governed by the rule of law, by respect for sovereignty, all the things that the world has come to know in the post-World War II environment. And the Chinese Communist Party wants to upend with a very different theory of international relations, one dominated by the East, one controlled in a way that won’t create more security, freedom, more prosperity.
I am confident the American people will demand that whoever is leading their country, President-elect Biden included, respond to that in a way that continues to make sure that America remains the country it has for the last 240-plus years, and that the world continue to operate under a set of rules that are based in human rights, based in the law, based in respect for sovereignty. Those are core principles, the idea of reciprocity is important, and I think every American leader understands the necessity for that.
QUESTION: Again, going back to your Nixon Library speech, you said, quote, “In Hollywood, not too far from here –” as we were in Yorba Linda, “the epicenter of American creative freedom, and self-appointed arbiters of social justice – self-censors even the most mildly unfavorable reference to China.” I’d like to expand on that, Mr. Secretary, and I experienced it this weekend. This era’s version of Oliver – Laurel – is a guy named Seth Rogen. And after hitting me once he exploded in anger and vulgarity at me on Twitter when I invited him on this program to discuss the Chinese Communist Party. He replied, quote, “My movies don’t come out in China,” sidestepping the issue of Hollywood kowtowing to Beijing, despite its repression of the Uyghurs, despite Hong Kong. Is that changing? Has Hollywood woken up even if celebrities who often disguise ignorance with invective – is it changing in Hollywood?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, I have not seen that yet. The capacity of the Chinese Communist Party to influence not just Hollywood, but the – our media more broadly, whether that’s through investment interests, whether that’s through threats that they won’t have access to the markets in China, whether that is simply people hanging out at the same cocktail parties. It is the case that we have permitted the Chinese Communist Party to get inside of our schools, our research institutions. You spoke about our media and Hollywood. Those are things that fundamentally present risk to the sovereignty of the United States of America. For decades we turned the other cheek, we allowed this to go on. I think, just as President Trump has said, we’ve had enough, that can’t continue to happen. And the United States needs to do everything it can. The government needs to do everything it can to prevent that from continuing to happen.
QUESTION: The most recent example: “Feeding the Dragon” is a book by a Hollywood executive, Chris Fenton. And the most recent example of what he describes as kowtowing is Tom Cruise iconic bomber jacket in Top Gun 2 – removed the Taiwan flag from it. Now, is that insidious? Is that something we should ignore? Is it just silly comedians like Seth Rogen or is that a real problem?
SECRETARY POMPEO: A flag on a jacket, (inaudible) standing alone – right? Okay, fine. But what it is is it is a bellwether. It’s an indicator. It is a signal for the depth, capacity, breadth, scope, the levels to which the Chinese Communist Party will reach, and in fact has reached, to influence how Americans think about their own country. These efforts, these influence operations are real, and the effort to undermine our institutions, our central, Western, democratic institutions, American republic, is real. And we have to make sure that we do everything we can to call it out, identify it. When the American people become aware of it, when they know, they’ll demand that not only government do the right thing, but they’ll remand that the – demand that the people who sell them products, the people who provide them services all behave in a way that is consistent with American national security. We have seen that throughout history before, Hugh. I’m confident we’ll see it again.
QUESTION: Now I want to go – one more quote from the Nixon speech – Nixon Library speech. You said, Mr. Secretary, “We have to keep in mind that the regime is a Marxist-Leninist regime. General Secretary Xi Jinping is a true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology.” And about Reagan’s old saw, “trust but verify,” you said, quote, “I say we must distrust and verify.” Do you think the incoming administration embraces this attitude towards the Chinese Communist Party?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Only time will tell. I don’t know the answer to that. But the evidence – not rhetoric from any leader or any politician, the evidence – demands it. Whether it’s the promises that were broken, broken to the people of Hong Kong; whether it was the promise not to militarize the South China Sea that was made in 2015 in the Rose Garden to President Obama. The list goes on. It is no longer the case that commitments that are made can be trusted, and so we must validate distrust, verify that the Chinese Communist Party does what it committed to do. When they do, we can engage. When they don’t, we must demand that they change in nature of the behavior that they’re engaged in, as it impacts the United States of America.
QUESTION: Now, Mr. Secretary, this very much looks like a third Obama term with people like Tony Blinken; very nice guy, I met him at Aspen. Wendy Sherman, very nice person, but, I mean, she negotiated the 1994 Korean “deal.” She negotiated the JCPOA with John Kerry, who’s back. Secretary Kerry will be back. I fear we’re going to end up waking up some morning and seeing a deal that recognizes the nine-dash line in exchange for promises of carbon reductions in 2080.
Are you worried about an Obama third term and the return of appeasement politics?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I don’t want to comment on the people, but the policy matters an awful lot. You’ve seen President Trump and our administration lay out a robust response to the great power competition that the Chinese Communist Party presents to the United States. We believe we have the right end of the stick on this. We think this is the right direction of travel. We think the American people demand it.
And we have seen too, Hugh – we have seen the world respond to this in positive ways. We’ve seen the Australians do remarkable work in pushing back. We’ve seen the Japanese, the South Koreans. We’ve developed the Quad now with the Indians that is very powerful in simply saying no, we’re not trying to punish, we are not trying to contain China. We are simply demanding that they engage in the world in a way that big nations with large economies, powerful militaries – we haven’t even talked about their missile program and their nuclear program – with countries that have real capacity to destabilize and make the world insecure – there is a requirement, there is responsibility that comes with it. And the United States ought to lead – whoever is president of the United States ought to lead – the path forward in responding to the Chinese Communist Party in this way.
QUESTION: Now, Mr. Secretary, I personally distrust everything the Chinese Communist Party says and does about the COVID virus that, as you noted, originated in Wuhan. A sidebar first: Do you personally believe it began in a lab there?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Still don’t know the answer. Chinese Communist Party has now for over a year refused to allow anybody to get access to the information they need to figure that out. It sounds like yesterday or the day before they may finally have let the World Health Organization enter. I hope, but I’m not optimistic, that they will actually let them do the work that needs to be done: see records, see the lab, see the original work that was done, see – talk to, interview all of the people, not with minders around, but in a situation where those people would be free to speak their mind. I hope that investigation can be thorough.
But I will add it is – I remember initially when I began to talk about the fact that this might well have come from the Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory, it was ruled as impossible. It is not impossible that that is what happened, and the world must continue to demand that we understand what took place here for a host of reasons, not the least of which, Hugh, is to make sure that something like this never happens again.
QUESTION: Many of our companies have allowed a Chinese information war to be carried on their platforms, attempting to shift the responsibility for the virus. Do you accept any other alternative explanation or are you certain it began in Wuhan?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The Chinese Communist Party has offered not one, not two, but at least three alternative theories for where this began. They continue to attempt to obfuscate. Everything that we have seen indicates that this began not only inside of China, but at Hubei province, Wuhan.
QUESTION: Does China owe the world reparations?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The reality is that the world has seen what authoritarian regimes do. They’ve seen the enormous death. They’ve seen the massive destruction of wealth. There will be hundreds and hundreds of thousands more people continue to live in poverty as a direct result of the economic challenges that the Wuhan virus has foisted upon the world. I think the world will respond to this in a way that recognizes what the Chinese Communist Party did by delaying their activation of the promises that they had made to the World Health Organization, and there will be costs that are attached to that as a direct result of the things that the Chinese Communist Party did.
QUESTION: And now switching to two other subjects, Mr. Secretary. Four years ago, President Obama declined to send a formal delegation to Cuba to attend the funeral of former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, but instead dispatched his top White House aide Benjamin Rhodes, who was the deputy national security advisor, now better known as the Metternich of MSNBC. Rhodes seems to be the only Obama-era staffer not coming back. Maybe not; maybe Tommy Vietor and Jon Favreau, the privileged pod boys.
But will appeasement chorus return on Cuba? Do you worry that the Obama-era policies about Cuba are coming back with the band getting back together?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The Cuban people don’t want that. The Cuban people want freedom. They want the absence of oppression. When America appeases, the Communist Party in Cuba becomes more powerful, more authoritarian, reduces the capacity of them – the Cuban people – to live the lives the way they want. I don’t know what the next administration will do, but the approach that the Trump administration has taken to challenge the leadership inside of Cuba and support the Cuban people is the right one. I hope it will continue.
QUESTION: My last subject is Iran, Mr. Secretary. In Yemen, the Houthis remain cruel servants of the Iranian regime and the theocracy there has used them for cruel purposes. America is about to designate them – indeed, it may have happened yesterday – as a terrorist regime. Do you expect team Biden to undercut this clarion call for truth in the Middle East?
SECRETARY POMPEO: More broadly in the Middle East, certainly Yemen, is part of this storyline. The Trump administration simply recognized reality. The Houthi forces are terrorists, underwritten by the theocracy, the kleptocracy that runs the Islamic Republic of Iran. That regime is funding a missile program, funding capabilities inside of Yemen that put Europe at risk, put the Middle East at risk. We simply are saying this is the truth. They’re terrorists, so designate them. We’ve done the same thing.
And you’ve seen the good things that have happened in the Middle East, whether it’s the reduction in the capacity of the regime to fund Lebanese Hizballah – Iranian regime to fund Lebanese Hizballah, or the Abraham Accords, or the things we’ve done to recognize that Israel belongs in the Middle East and is an important partner to those Gulf state countries, whether that’s through the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people, the Jewish homeland in Israel, or whether it was the recognition that the Golan Heights belongs to Israel, or the fact that not every settlement has to be illegal. Those are central truths. Those are realistic. Those are the right policies for security, freedom, prosperity throughout the Middle East.
I think the people of the Middle East know that. You’ve seen it. These were sovereign decisions to join the Abraham Accords. I am very confident that the foundation that has been laid during this time of the Trump administration will continue to help the people of the Middle East flourish.
QUESTION: Now, our strongest allies in the region are Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and they led the way on the Abraham Accords. Others have quickly followed and that’s great, but there’s an almost religious attachment to the JCPOA. They’ve been holding a wake that’s now in its fourth year for it. Will the attempt to resurrect that failed agreement in any way compromise the progress that’s been made in the Middle East?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s always a mistake to demonstrate weakness to the Islamic Republic of Iran. They will use it for malfeasance. They will use it to present risk. I think the countries that are most impacted by it ought to have the loudest voice with respect to how that proceeds.
And I hope the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Emiratis, the Kuwaitis, the Bahrainis, the Egyptians – all the people who are impacted by what Iran could potentially do if we turn the spigots back on and send tens and tens of billions of dollars back into this regime – I hope that they will prevail and I hope that what we’ll get is a strong response to the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East today – that is, the regime in Iran – and that we will continue down this path of creating enhanced security relationships amongst the Gulf states, amongst all of those partners, all of those nations that want to participate in that.
QUESTION: Now, Mr. Secretary, I know you don’t do politics. Secretaries of states don’t. President Trump’s term is ending in controversy and a disastrous day last week. But the four years he’s been in office – and you’ve been there every day, either at the CIA or at Foggy Bottom – saw the Abraham Accords, Warp Speed, the federal judiciary made, the China reset. Does the horrific event of last week in any way detract from those achievements, and ought the American public to discern the differences between those and that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, what happened that day was terrible, and I have said repeatedly that those folks who engaged in this activity need to be identified, prosecuted, and they are criminals and ought to be treated as such. But history will reflect on the good work that this President and our administration has done. Those books will be written about the changes that we have made in the world, the recognition that we have taken about reality, sovereignty, respect for basic dignity and human rights, a return to the founding principles in a way that previous administrations had not done. I’ll let others write it, but I think that those actions – the actual things that happened – will be reflected in a way that shows there was good work done on behalf of the American people.
QUESTION: My very last question, Mr. Secretary, and you’ve been generous with your time: You have been an advocate of religious liberty around the world, about the natural rights approach to human rights. Will that endure? And why did you make that a priority?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s very difficult to conduct foreign policy around the world if you don’t understand the founding of your own nation, your own nation’s deep traditions. That’s certainly true in the space of human rights as well, religious freedom being foremost among them, along with the capacity to exercise your religious rights and rights to speak. You have to get that right. I wanted to make sure that my team at the State Department, my diplomats understood that founding, understood and appreciated how important and how noble the American tradition was.
And while we are an imperfect nation, we are constantly headed towards respecting and increasing the rights for every American. If we get that right, if we do it well, then we can be a force for good in the world. And if we don’t, it becomes more difficult. I wanted to make sure that my team understood that, and it was a moment to reflect on these central truths about American exceptionalism.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your many interviews as Secretary of State. I continue to look forward to talking to you after you have left, and congratulations on a successful tenure at State and at the agency.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Hugh. Bless you. So long.