Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued his rhetorical barrage against China as the top diplomat at the Chinese consulate in Houston suggested they may defy US orders to vacate.
Pompeo’s remarks at the Nixon Library Thursday, titled “Communist China and the Free World’s Future,” cast aspersions on Beijing and its relations with the US, nearly 50 years after President Richard Nixon became the first US president to travel to China.
“We must admit our 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,” he said. “We must not continue it and we must not return to it.”
He appeared to cast the US-China competition as a modern day Cold War, saying that “securing our freedoms from the Chinese Communist Party is the mission of our time and America is perfectly positioned to lead it.”
Pompeo delivered the speech on the heels of a US order to close the Chinese consulate in Houston – “because it was a hub of spying and intellectual property theft,” in his words. The order – the latest in a series of escalations between Washington and Beijing – demands that the Chinese shutter the property by Friday.
However, in an interview with Politico Thursday, Consul General Cai Wei suggested the diplomatic outpost may defy that order.
“Today we are still operating normally, so we will see what will happen tomorrow,” he told the news outlet, but did not elaborate further.
Chinese officials have urged the United States to reverse its decision and have threatened retaliation.
State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said that they “had to make the decision to close down this consulate due to this massive, massive theft of our research and our intellectual property.”
“We’ve uncovered spy rings,” she claimed in an interview with “Quest Means Business” Thursday.
“But most importantly, I think what has been very troubling to us is the theft of research from our universities, from our hospitals, the theft of intellectual property, the theft from technology companies. So the FBI and the Department of Justice have started to lay out the case and show the facts again,” she said.
A seven page document prepared by US law enforcement officials and shared across US government agencies details instances of covert People’s Liberation Army activity in the US, including details related to the Houston consulate specifically, according to the document reviewed by CNN.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin denied the allegations that the consulate was the “epicenter” of illicit activities.
Pompeo’s speech made only a small mention of the consulate closure. The top US diplomat instead focused on the broader tensions between the two countries, painting China as an insidious threat that has taken advantage of relations with democratic nations.
“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,” he said.
“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,” Pompeo continued. “We opened our arms to Chinese citizens, only to see the Chinese Communist Party exploit our free and open society.”
While acknowledging differences between China and the Soviet Union, Pompeo said China is repeating some of the same mistakes that the Soviet Union made, such as alienating allies and rejecting property rights and rule of law. He called President Xi Jinping a “true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology.”
Pompeo called on the US and allies to work to “change China’s behavior.”
His speech was the fourth and culminating event in a series of remarks from the administration against China. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Attorney General Bill Barr delivered similar remarks on the threat from Beijing.
CNN’s Nicole Gaouette and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.