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Foreign Policy

Pompeo’s Pipe Dream

Aug 26, 2020
  • Ma Shikun

    Senior Journalist, the People’s Daily

Over the past few months, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in defiance of the coronavirus still raging around the world, has made frequent foreign trips in a futile and delusional attempt to rally an anti-China alliance.

On July 24, Pompeo openly proposed forming a “new alliance of democracies,” claiming that “it’s time for a new grouping of like-minded nations.” The media called it “an alliance against China.” Russia, which was also urged to join, categorically refused, saying it won’t join any effort aimed against anyone, especially against China, which is a partner and friend.

Pompeo wasted no time in using Hong Kong as an opportunity to promote his plan. Recently, he has been extremely active in accusing China of violating the rule of law and infringing on human rights as he tried to drum up support among U.S. allies. When pressed to comment on the fact that 53 countries have voiced support for the National Security Law for Hong Kong, he said he was “surprised and dismayed.” In fact, at a recent meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, more than 70 countries supported China’s stance on Hong Kong and expressed opposition to using Hong Kong as an excuse to interfere in China’s internal affairs.

Pompeo announced earlier this month an expanded five-pronged “clean network” program, which is part of the proposed anti-China alliance. He claimed it was meant to keep the influence of the Chinese government out of five areas. He singled out Huawei, Alibaba, WeChat and China Mobile as companies to be eliminated from the network. He ballyhooed that 30 countries have joined the program.

Here is the question: Did the 30 countries join willingly? Take Britain as an example. It promised to stop purchasing from Huawei at the end of this year and will remove all Huawei equipment and devices from its telecom networks by 2027.

It’s not likely that Pompeo will succeed in creating an anti-China alliance. During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 30, he admitted as much, noting the difficulties in light of China’s economic strength. For once he spoke the truth. China, the second-largest economy in the world, is the largest trading partner of more than 100 countries. When trade and cooperation with China could translate into real benefits for a country, it would be unwise to side with the United States. On Aug. 11, M.K. Narayanan, the former national security adviser of India, wrote in The Hindu: “It is thus more than evident that few nations across the world are willing to risk China’s ire because of strong economic ties that have been forged over the years.” He stressed that economic ties are proving to be stronger than military or strategic factors.

Pompeo will fail in forming an alliance against China because it would violate the norms of international relations. It runs counter to current trends and would throw the world into chaos. Another reason is that the United States is no longer a trusted member of the international community because of its random imposition of sanctions on others, placing its domestic laws above international law and unilaterally withdrawing from key international organizations and treaties.

Pompeo also tried to scare other countries into siding with the United States by cooking up and spreading rumors about China’s military expansion and hegemony, which he claimed posed a threat to global security. Such claims could actually be used to describe the United States itself. On Aug. 5, Project Syndicate published a convincing analysis about the relative military status of China and the United States. The author Jeffrey D. Sachs wrote: “Only one country has a defense strategy calling for it to be the 'preeminent military power in the world.’” The article pointed to U.S. military spending of $732 billion in 2019, nearly triple what China spent. The U.S. has around 800 overseas military bases, while China has just one, a small naval support base in Djibouti. The U.S. has 5,800 nuclear warheads; China has roughly 320. The U.S. has 11 aircraft carriers; China has two.

The U.S. has launched many overseas wars in the past 40 years; China has launched none. The author stressed that, indeed, outside of the U.S., there is little belief that China aims for global dominance. Moreover, China’s GDP per capita last year was less than one-sixth that of the U.S., hardly a basis for global supremacy.

For the purpose of forming an anti-China alliance, Pompeo also played up “decoupling.” He advocated the economic decoupling of the United States and China, and urged others to take sides and decouple as well. This is irrational: Throughout recent decades, during which the trend has been toward globalization, China has maintained close economic cooperation and cultural and human exchanges with countries around the world. So it won’t be easy to decouple with China, even if one wanted to.

Take China-U.S. relations as an example. To date, about 70,000 American companies have invested in China, and two-way investment has amounted to nearly $240 billion. China-U.S. economic and trade relations help support 2.6 million jobs in the United States. The exchange of visits between Chinese and American people jumped 5 million per year, and more than 400,000 Chinese students are studying in the U.S. Fifty pairs of sister provinces/states and 227 pairs of sister city friendships have been forged. In the face of natural disasters and epidemic, the two peoples sympathized with one another and lent each other a helping hand.

Neither Pompeo nor the White House will be able to decouple with China by cutting off the complex contacts and exchanges between the two nations. As for other countries, some may choose to side with the United States, but they won’t be able to form a major bloc with the power to hurt China. 

The Cold War mentality that Pompeo has stubbornly held dear led him to the idea of forming an anti-China alliance. He copied from America’s Cold War playbook on international relations and China-U.S. ties, and also wanted to apply the same tactics against the Soviet Union in its dealings with China.

But the world has changed, and the scenario of two hostile, competing blocs is long gone.

Amid the trend of globalization, all countries have become deeply integrated. China is not the former Soviet Union, and has no intent of exporting its ideology to others or interfering in others’ internal affairs. China-U.S. relations are also distinctly different from the relations between the United States and the old Soviet Union. They treated each other as enemies and had few exchanges of any kind.

The Cold War was a nightmare for mankind and has been jettisoned by every thinking person. If anyone wants to revive it by forming an anti-China alliance, he or she is bound to become a laughing stock.

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