Pompeo to governors: China is watching you

‘While there are places we can cooperate, we cannot ignore China’s actions and strategic intentions’

Sec. Pompeo (Getty)
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This is an edited transcript of Mike Pompeo’s speech to state governors at the National Governors Association 2020 Winter Meeting:

Thank you Gov. Hogan, Gov. Cuomo, and all of you for being here today. It is hard to follow the President’s State of the Union the other day. I am not passing out copies of my speech, so you cannot tear them up at the end.

I have got to know some of you as I traveled throughout the states. I have probably traveled more throughout the country than other secretaries of state. I think it is…

This is an edited transcript of Mike Pompeo’s speech to state governors at the National Governors Association 2020 Winter Meeting:

Thank you Gov. Hogan, Gov. Cuomo, and all of you for being here today. It is hard to follow the President’s State of the Union the other day. I am not passing out copies of my speech, so you cannot tear them up at the end.

I have got to know some of you as I traveled throughout the states. I have probably traveled more throughout the country than other secretaries of state. I think it is important that the American people know what our diplomats are doing around the world and why we are doing it.

Last year I received an invitation to an event that promised to be ‘an occasion for exclusive dealmaking’. It said ‘the opportunities for mutually beneficial economic development between China and our individual states is tremendous’. Dealmaking sounds like it may have come from President Trump, but the invitation was from a former governor. I was being invited to the US-China governors collaboration summit. It was an event co-hosted by the National Governors Association and something called the Chinese people’s association for friendship in foreign countries. Sounds pretty harmless.

What the invitation did not say is that the group I just mentioned is the public face of the Chinese Communist party’s foreign influence agency, the United Front Work Department. I was lucky, I was familiar with that organization from my time as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. But it got me thinking: how many of you made the link between that group and the Chinese Communist party officials? What if you made a friend at that event? What if your friend asked you for introductions to other politically-connected powerful people? What if your new friend offered to invest big money in your state, perhaps in industries sensitive to our national security?

These are not hypotheticals. These scenarios are all too true and they impact American foreign policy significantly. Last year, a Chinese government-backed think tank in Beijing produced a report that assessed all 50 of America’s governors and their attitudes towards China. They labeled each of you ‘friendly’, ‘hardline’, or ‘ambiguous’.

I will let you decide where you think you belong. Someone in China already has.

Many of you, indeed, in that report are referenced by name. Here is the lesson — the lesson is that competition with China is not just a federal issue. It is why I wanted to be here today. It is happening in your states with consequences for our foreign policy, for the citizens that reside in your states and indeed for each of you.

In fact, whether you are viewed by the CCP as friendly or hardline, know that it is working you, know that it is working the team around you. Competition with China is happening in your state and it affects our capacity to perform America’s vital national security functions.

I want to set the context today for this topic. At the end of the Cold War, America started to engage with China heavily. It made good sense. We thought that the more we interacted, the more that it would become like a liberal democracy — like us. It did not happen.

You all know this. Indeed, under Xi Jinping, the country is moving in the opposite direction. More oppression, more unfair competition, more predatory economic practices, and indeed a more aggressive military posture as well. This does not mean we cannot do business with China.

We can find places to cooperate where our interests converge. You can see that in the first part of the trade deal that President Trump got done. It was indeed a deal that was good for both the United States and for China. These economic ties are powerful. They are good. They’re good for your state, they are good for America.

Look at the nearly 18 tons of medical supplies we just sent to China this week to fight the coronavirus. We have announced more than $100 million of assistance to China and the countries affected by the virus. But while there are places we can cooperate, we cannot ignore China’s actions and strategic intentions. If we do, we risk the important components of our relationship that benefit both countries.

The Chinese government has been methodical in the way it has analyzed our open system, one we are deeply proud of. It has assessed our vulnerabilities and has decided to exploit our freedoms to gain advantage of us at the federal level, at the state level and at the local level.

Last year, I announced I would give a series of speeches on China and this is the context in which state and local officials should lead. China matters. It has been part of my mission in the State Department to mobilize all parts of the United States government. I was out in Silicon Valley to talk to America’s leading tech companies about the severity set of issues and I need your help too. What China does in Topeka and Sacramento reverberates in Washington and Beijing.

Competition with China is happening in your state. I would be surprised if most of you in the audience have not been lobbied by the Chinese Communist party directly. The Chinese Communist party friendship organization are in Richmond, Minneapolis, Portland, Jupiter, Florida and many other cities around the country. But sometimes China’s activities are not quite that public.

Let me read you an excerpt from a letter from a Chinese diplomat. He sent a letter last month to the speaker of one of your state legislators. ‘As we all know, Taiwan is part of China. Avoid engaging in any official contact with Taiwan, including ascending congratulatory messages to the elected, announcing proclamations for the election, sending officials to the inauguration ceremony, and inviting officials in Taiwan to the United States.’ You have a diplomat from China, assigned here to the United States, a representative of the Chinese Communist party in New York City urging that an American elected official should not exercise his freedom of speech. Let that sink in for just a minute.

This is not a one-off event. It is happening all across the country. Chinese consulates in Illinois, Texas, two in California, bound by the Vienna Convention are very politically active at the state level, as is the embassy here in DC. Maybe some of you have heard about the time when the Chinese consulate paid UC San Diego students to protest the Dalai Lama. Or, last August, when a former governor, Phil Bryant of Mississippi, received a letter from a diplomat in Houston threatening to cancel a Chinese investment if the governor chose to travel to Taiwan. Phil went anyway. Last year a high school in Chicago disinvited a Taiwanese representative to serve on a climate panel after Chinese pressure. It is one thing to pressure the secretary of state of the United States of America. It is quite something else to go after a high school principal. It shows depth, it shows systematization, it shows intent.

Chinese Communist party officials too are cultivating relationships with county school board members and local politicians, often through what is known as a sister cities programs. Chinese competition is something you all know. But you have many duties and you are busy people. Yet this competition is well underway. All these may seem like local matters to some, the cumulative effect is of enormous national significance.

Of course, too, our public educational institutions are another arena of competition with China. Governors, you do not run these institutions on a day-to-day basis, but you often have an impact on the people who do. The FBI director and I think the attorney general too talked yesterday about something called the ‘Thousand Talents Plan’. It is a plan to recruit scientists to transport the know-how we have here to China in exchange for in enormous paydays. The program has probably targeted campuses in your state. Indeed the Department of Justice has indicted professors at my home state, at the University of Kansas, at Virginia Tech and at Harvard. A Texas A&M investigation discovered more than a hundred academics participating in Chinese talent recruitment programs. Only five of them had declared that they were participating in this program. Goodness knows what else we have not discovered. There are indeed very credible reports of Chinese officials pressuring Chinese students — students studying here in America — to monitor Chinese students and report back to Beijing.

One pro-democracy Chinese student on a college campus in the northeast last year received death threats for exercising his right to free speech. The FBI became involved. Make no mistake about it — we want talented, young Chinese students to come study in the United States of America. We ought to encourage them to be here. But they should not have to fear the long arm of Beijing, which often reaches out via groups like the Chinese Students and Scholars Association. That is one of many campus groups directly influenced by the Chinese Communist party and it has representatives here in the United States.

Many of you are familiar with Confucius Institutes. They purport to have the sole purpose of teaching Mandarin and Chinese culture. A bipartisan Senate committee found in 2019 that the Chinese Communist party controls nearly every aspect of the Confucius Institutes here in the United States. The University of Missouri, Kansas, Maryland, have independently decided to close down their Confucius Institutes after performing their own reviews.

Schools in 22 other states are doing or have already done the same. Sadly China’s propaganda campaign starts even earlier than college. China has targeted classrooms through the ‘Confucius classroom’. Do you know that we have no ability to establish similar programs in China? I’m sure that does not surprise you. President Trump has talked about reciprocity in trade — we should have reciprocity in all things.

Today they have free rein in our system and we are completely shut out from theirs. As of 2017, there were 519 of these Confucius classrooms in the United States. Beijing knows that today’s kids are tomorrow’s leaders. Chinese competition is happening in your states and it is a competition that goes to the very basic freedoms that everyone one of us values. When it comes to doing business, I am asking you to adopt a cautious mindset. In the words of President Reagan, when you are approached with an introduction or approached with a deal, trust but verify.

I know you will have power over pension funds or the people who run them. The Florida retirement system is invested in a company that is in turn invested in surveillance gear that the Chinese Communist party uses to track more than one million Muslim minorities. California’s pension fund is invested in a company that supplies the People’s Liberation Army that puts our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines at risk. It is the case for many Chinese companies too, their books are not wide open. It is difficult to know if the transactions we engage in are transparent and fair and involve the rule of law.


All of these things may well be legal, but the question is: do they demonstrate good judgment and preserve America’s national security? I want to urge vigilance on the local level too. In DC, there have been concerns that the new Metro cards manufactured by China could be vulnerable to cyber threats. So again, it is worth trusting but verifying. There are federal officials available to help you work through these challenges when they arise.

Do not make separate or individual deals with China that undermine our policy. I know you would not do so intentionally. Let us help you. We are here to help. The Trump administration wants to help. There are so many things we have already done. Last year we issued a letter to state governments. It reaffirmed that Taiwan remains a partner in every way. We strengthened the review process for Chinese companies investing in your states. We revoke visas for so-called research scholars who abuse their privileges by teaching at Confucius classrooms and make sure they depart the United States. We ban scientists from the Department of Energy, which oversees America’s largest nuclear research labs. We did so because they were participating in Chinese talent recruitment programs. We directed two Chinese propaganda outlets, the Chinese Global Television Network and the Xinhua News Agency to register as foreign agents. We at the State Department have started to make our Chinese diplomats to comply with the same rules we comply with when we’re are in China — they must notify us ahead of meetings with state and local officials. They must declare their official visits to US education and research institutions as well. It is just fairness, reciprocity and basic common sense. This is not an onerous restriction to put on China.

I know it is 2:30 on a Saturday, there are a lot of good things we can do. I hope you will all take on board what I have said today. You all have important missions leading your states. These are complex, difficult jobs. It is a tough job. You get curveballs every day from all across the place. But do not lose sight of the competition from China that is already present in your state. Let us all rise to the occasion and protect our security, our economy, all that we hold dear. It is what leaders must do. It is what we do as Americans. Bless each and every one of you, each of your states, and have the United States of America. Thank you for letting me be with you this afternoon.