Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Wednesday traveled to Wisconsin to speak to state officials about how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is increasingly attempting to influence and divide Americans at the state and local level through sophisticated influence operations.
Pompeo said, for example, back in February, a CCP official at China’s Chicago consulate named Wu Ting reached out to Wisconsin State Sen. Roger Roth and asked him to pass a resolution in the Wisconsin Senate praising China’s response to the coronavirus.
The resolution said:
Whereas China’s action has been critical to the global fight against the epidemic, and China has adopted unprecedented and rigorous measures for disease control and prevention…Whereas China has been transparent and quick in sharing key information of the virus with the WHO and the international community…
Roth deleted the email, thinking it was a hoax. Wu tried to follow up again, attaching a revised version. Roth responded, “Nuts.”
Pompeo said the CCP was trying to get Roth to “whitewash the Communist Party’s culpability for a global pandemic that’s killed more than 200,000 Americans – and nearly one million people worldwide – and sent the world economy into a tailspin.”
“Roger didn’t take the bait,” Pompeo said. “He led the passage of a resolution that explicitly stated ‘the Communist Party of China deliberately and intentionally misled the world on the Wuhan Coronavirus.'”
But, Pompeo asked the audience of officials:
How many of you might have corresponded with Ms. Wu? Or maybe even worked with her? Would you know what the consulate in Chicago was doing, and why? It’s an uncomfortable set of questions, but they are important to confront. Because what happened to Roger is happening in statehouses all across this great country.
Pompeo said what differentiates China from other countries seeking to influence U.S. politics and culture is that the CCP has more “sinister” aims.
“The Party and its proxies aim to make Americans receptive to Beijing’s form of authoritarianism,” he said.
Pompeo said Chinese President and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping in August spoke about developing cooperation with “states, localities and enterprises in the United States” as a way to bypass the federal government’s pushback against China. “Xi thinks you’re the weak link,” he said.
“This isn’t the Cold War. It’s different in kind. The CCP’s effort is more sophisticated, multi-layered, and nuanced,” he said.
But Pompeo said these attempts to influence state-level officials are not new. Many of those attempts have dealt with trying to get them not to recognize or interact with Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory and not a separate country. Or, in 2017, he said the Chinese consulate in San Francisco helped squelch a proposal from a California state senator expressing support for religious practitioners of Falun Gong in America and China.
He said the San Francisco Chinese consulate wrote a letter to the legislature denouncing the group as an “evil cult” and claimed the bill might “deeply damage the cooperative relations between the State of California and China, and seriously hurt the feeling of Chinese people and the vast Chinese community in California.”
“Unfortunately, the California State Senate bowed to the CCP pressure campaign and shelved the proposed bill,” he said.
Pompeo also noted the New York Police Department officer and Army reservist who was acting as an illegal agent for China, by spying on Tibetans living in the U.S. and inviting CCP officials to meet senior-level NYPD officials.
He added that “Chinese sister-city programs” all over America are part of China’s United Front Work Department, the CCP’s official overseas propaganda tool.
He advised state and city officials to be vigilant when they are approached and courted by a Chinese diplomat, and laid out a number of steps they can take to counter Chinese influence operations, including:
- pass laws to codify closer cooperation with federal agencies in IP protection, investment screening, and counterinfiltration operations;
- ignore CCP threats, and encourage mayors and businesspeople to engage with a free and democratic Taiwan;
- scrutinize your state pension funds to make sure they are not invested in certain Chinese companies;
- ensure your state colleges aren’t improperly influenced by CCP-linked organizations like the Confucius Institutes, and that pro-democracy students from China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan aren’t harassed and threatened by pro-Beijing elements on campus.
He added: “Telling the truth about China isn’t partisan. It’s principled. And it protects our people.”
Pompeo noted another instance of China trying to influence domestic politics. The Chinese diplomat in Wisconsin, Wu, on April 2, 2020, forwarded a letter from her husband, also a Chinese diplomat, to Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), which declared: “We are firmly opposed to racial discrimination and xenophobia against the local Chinese community and stigmatization of China and the Chinese people over the virus.”
Pompeo said, “America’s righteous anger at the CCP over its handling of the coronavirus has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with citizens dead, children kept from school, and jobs lost. The CCP knows this.”
“The CCP thinks it can drown out American cries for accountability with shouts of racism. It wants to foment the kind of strife we’ve seen in Minneapolis, and Portland, and Kenosha. That’s disgusting. We can’t let that happen.”
He said the Trump administration has been doing its part to fight back against Chinese interference in U.S. domestic politics, including putting increased restrictions on Chinese diplomats, opening a new China-related intellectual property theft case every 10 hours, revoking visas for more than 1,000 Chinese nationals suspected of stealing IP on university campuses, designating the Confucius Institute’s U.S. headquarters as a foreign mission, and reviewing the activities of two United Front Work Department organizations operating in the United States: the U.S.-China Friendship Association and the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification.
“The Trump Administration is fighting to protect our wallets, hearts, minds, and our freedoms,” he said.
“We public officials cannot be complacent in the CCP’s campaign to fracture American society, and silence American voices. Every one of us must stand up for our sovereignty, and for American values themselves,” he said.
He concluded: “Democrat or Republican, you have a friend in the Trump Administration to help you push back against the CCP’s exploitation of our open society. Let’s do this together, for the American people, and the future of our great democracy.”