Pompeo offers warning on China in Georgia speech ahead of Senate elections

Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday raised the risk of China stealing academic research and intellectual property in remarks at a university in Georgia that come weeks before two Senate runoff elections in the state.

The setting of the speech at Georgia Tech in Atlanta had raised eyebrows given its proximity to the Senate races, which will determine which party holds the majority in the upper chamber.

In a nod to the controversy, Pompeo in his remarks said, “No, I’m not lost  I know this is Georgia the state, not Georgia the country.”

In his speech, Pompeo called China’s Communist Party “the central threat of our time” and highlighted efforts by Chinese security services to pressure and recruit Chinese academics and students as spies.

“Americans must know how the Chinese Communist Party is poisoning the well of our higher education institutions for its own ends and how those actions degrade our freedoms and American national security,” Pompeo said.

“If we don’t educate ourselves, if we’re not honest about what’s taking place, we’ll get schooled by Beijing.”

Pompeo, who is considered a possible 2024 presidential contender, has come under criticism from Democrats and former State Department officials for speeches delivered ahead of the November elections in key swing states. 

He also spoke to a Baptist church in Texas and the state legislature in Wisconsin ahead of the elections, and he recorded a speech for the Republican National Convention while he was on diplomatic travel in Israel.

Pompeo and the State Department have defended his public remarks, saying the State Department’s legal team cleared his speech to the convention and that his domestic speeches are in line with the responsibilities of the secretary to communicate with the American people. 

The remarks on China follow a warning by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe that China is the top national security threat facing the U.S. and that Beijing seeks to dominate the U.S. and the world economically, politically and militarily.

Pompeo on Wednesday said China was targeting Chinese students studying in the U.S., threatening them over perceived criticism of China and pressuring them and threatening their families in China in exchange for information on democracy activists and dissidents.

“Some of the CCP’s biggest victims on campuses are innocent Chinese nationals themselves,” Pompeo said. “And this is a tragedy. We have a responsibility to police this.”

He further attacked “left-leaning” institutions as prime targets of the Chinese Communist Party to exploit anti-American sentiment in the U.S. and chastised American university students as taking U.S. guarantees of freedom of speech for granted.

“American students talk about safe spaces, a shelter from ideas they dislike. Chinese students need safe spaces to learn the ideas that they love. What a stark contrast,” Pompeo said.

“Look, they know that left-leaning college campuses are rife with anti-Americanism and present easy targets for their anti-American messaging.”

Pompeo called for greater protections for Chinese students on college campuses, speaking out against Beijing and maintaining vigilance against efforts to steal academic and research materials.

Chinese students studying in the U.S. make up nearly 40 percent of the more than 1 million international students that come to the U.S. These students contribute billions to the economy. 

President-elect Joe Biden has committed to confronting China and has said he will not immediately reverse a host of sanctions policies imposed by the Trump administration that have targeted China over what it says are abuses of diplomacy, the economy, military and human rights.

The president-elect has said he intends to focus on working with allies on a coherent strategy to confront China and increase investment in the U.S. to better compete with Beijing.

Pompeo, who has avoided acknowledging Biden’s presidential victory and in November joked that there would be a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” said on Wednesday that the challenge posed by China will confront presidential administrations for years to come.

“I think whoever has the burden and the opportunity of being president of the United States, [not] just in February of 2021 but February of 2025 and ’29 and ’33 — I think every one of those leaders will feel the challenge and recognize they have a duty and responsibility to confront this in a very real way,” he said.

Tags China Georgia Joe Biden John Ratcliffe Mike Pompeo State Department
See all Hill.TV See all Video