Pompeo Praises Britain for Getting Tough on China

By Benjamin Mueller

The secretary of state praised the British government for recent actions on China as the Trump administration tries to build a global coalition against Beijing.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain at 10 Downing Street in London on Tuesday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain at 10 Downing Street in London on Tuesday.Credit...Pool photo by Andy Rain
Benjamin Mueller

LONDON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday cheered the hardening British posture toward China and appealed for a global coalition against the country, blaming the Chinese Communist Party for what he described as exploitation of the coronavirus pandemic “to further its own interests.”

Mr. Pompeo made the remarks on a visit to Britain, which in itself was something of a victory lap for the Trump administration. It had previously indicated that Britain had to choose whether to side with Beijing or Washington on matters like China’s role in telecommunications infrastructure.

The secretary of state heaped praise on Dominic Raab, Britain’s foreign secretary, for his government’s decision last week to ban equipment supplied by the Chinese technology giant Huawei from the country’s high-speed wireless network, among other things.

“I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the British government for its principled responses to these challenges,” Mr. Pompeo said. “Well done.”

The two men dismissed suspicions that Britain’s decisions had come at the behest of an American government locked in a widening confrontation with China. But analysts said that Mr. Pompeo’s embrace of his British counterparts would only make it more difficult for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to walk back from the brink of a deepening rift with Beijing.

China’s ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming, had lashed out at Britain on Monday night, accusing it of interfering in Chinese internal affairs and violating international law in its opposition to China’s crackdown on Hong Kong.

Analysts said Mr. Pompeo’s remarks could further aggravate Britain’s worsening ties with China.

“Pompeo’s sort of fulsome praise of how the British government has been working with the Americans is likely to make the Chinese response harder,” said Professor Steve Tsang, the director of the SOAS China Institute in London. “Now that may be what Pompeo wants to see. But that’s not what Dominic Raab or Boris Johnson want to see.”

Professor Tsang said that Britain’s rebuff of Huawei had seemed calibrated not to provoke an outsized response from Beijing, since Mr. Johnson gave Huawei five months to continue selling equipment for Britain’s 5G networks before the ban takes effect. Mr. Johnson, a self-described “Sinophile,” has in the past praised efforts to take advantage of commercial opportunities through trade with China.

“Johnson is trying to minimize the damages,” Professor Tsang said.

ImageA Huawei store in Beijing. Britain announced last week that it would ban equipment from the Chinese technology giant for the country’s high-speed wireless network.
A Huawei store in Beijing. Britain announced last week that it would ban equipment from the Chinese technology giant for the country’s high-speed wireless network.Credit...Tingshu Wang/Reuters

But Mr. Johnson has been forced to change course in recent months as British public opinion, and the mood of his own Conservative Party, hardened in response to China’s crackdown on Hong Kong and its handling of the pandemic.

Some Conservative lawmakers, among them the same politicians who once pushed a hard line on Britain’s exit from the European Union, have organized what they call the China Research Group, demanding that the government take a more aggressive approach to China for a number of reasons.

Among them are China’s tough treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and fears that a United States-Britain trade deal — one of the desired outcomes of Brexit — would be jeopardized if Mr. Johnson spurned President Trump’s urgings for a more combative China policy.

Mr. Pompeo met with some of those anti-China lawmakers from Britain’s Conservative Party on Tuesday. Among them was Iain Duncan Smith, a prominent Brexit supporter, who has lately called on the British government to ban TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media platform, arguing that it poses as much of a threat as Huawei.

Mr. Pompeo has said the United States was looking at banning TikTok and other Chinese social media platforms.

With tensions escalating between Western countries and China, Britain has taken a series of more aggressive steps in recent days. On Monday, it suspended an extradition treaty with Hong Kong to protest the new security law that tightened China’s grip on the former British colony and is seen by critics as jeopardizing long-cherished freedoms there.

The suspension, ostensibly made in response to fears that anyone extradited to Hong Kong from Britain could be sent on to mainland China to face prosecution, was another indication that Western countries’ willingness to confront China has grown firmer since Beijing last month adopted the sweeping security law.

For Mr. Pompeo, who has described China as the “central threat of our times,” the visit was an opportunity to solidify Britain’s support for a more confrontational approach to China.

“It’s not about language, it’s not about words,” Mr. Pompeo said at a news conference with Mr. Raab on Tuesday. “We want every nation to work together to push back against the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts in every dimension that I described to you today.”

He added, “That certainly includes the United Kingdom.”

Within Britain, too, there are signs that the pressure on Mr. Johnson to continue his campaign against China will not abate. Anti-China lawmakers in Britain are said to be preparing to try to block efforts by a state-owned Chinese nuclear power company to expand its footprint in Britain.