Pompeo Slams Chinese State Media for Refusing to Publish U.S. Ambassador Op-Ed

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool via AP)
Nicholas Kamm/Pool via AP

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Wednesday for refusing to publish an op-ed written by U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad, blasting the CCP’s “fear of free speech and serious intellectual debate.”

The Chinese government responded by accusing Pompeo of being “unreasonable” and claimed Branstad’s article was “full of loopholes and seriously inconsistent with the facts.”

Pompeo noted the bitter irony of the CCP’s People’s Daily suppressing Branstad’s op-ed when it called for “more positive relations between our two countries and asked to “build relationships through unrestricted engagement and uncensored discussion.”

The Secretary of State also contrasted Chinese censorship with America’s willingness to give Chinese officials access to its free media:

China’s Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai alone has published five Op-eds this year in prominent U.S. news outlets such as the Washington Post and Politico, and given exclusive interviews to the likes of CNN and CBS. China’s Foreign Ministry and state-owned propaganda organs like the Global Times and China Daily regularly use free access to American social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to attack our policies, our way of life, and the very system that protects their ability to speak freely. They do this in other democratic countries, too.

If Communist China is sincere about becoming a mature power and strengthening relations with the free world, General Secretary Xi Jinping’s government would respect the right for Western diplomats to speak directly to the Chinese people, allow foreign journalists back into China, and stop the intimidation and harassment of investigative journalists, foreign and Chinese, who strive to uphold the integrity of the fifth estate to serve the public good. Their refusal to do so shows just how much China’s unelected Party elites fear their own people’s free-thinking and the free world’s judgment about their governance practices inside China.

The CCP’s response to Pompeo’s criticism insisted the People’s Daily, a pure propaganda organ of the Communist Party, has high editorial standards as a “prestigious, serious, and professional” publication that Brandstad’s op-ed failed to meet in some unspecified way.

The CCP whined at length about other U.S. statements and actions it dislikes, including the ritual invocation of favorite talking points and slogans, without ever getting around to explaining what the “factual mistakes” in Branstad’s submission were:

People’s Daily is consistently committed to promoting better communication and understanding between the Chinese and American people. Recently, however, the United States has been escalating political suppression and persecution against Chinese press outlets in the United States with a Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice from having to register as “foreign agents”, to being designated as “foreign missions”; from denying visas to Chinese journalists to de facto expelling Chinese journalists from the United States; and recently, the United States adopted discriminatory visa restrictions that limit the visa validity period to no more than three months for all journalists of Chinese media, including those based at the United Nations Headquarters. Up to now, it is still unclear whether all Chinese journalists’ visas, which were due on August 6, will be renewed. This leaves multiple journalists with People’s Daily in the United States and their family members, including young children, facing huge uncertainties, severely impacting the work and lives of Chinese journalists in the United States, and greatly restricting the freedom of reporting. 

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not do much better, vaguely accusing Branstad of trying to “frame China” for something and affecting high dudgeon over the U.S Embassy’s request to publish the Branstad piece as written. 

China’s state-run Global Times quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian repeating the same complaints about editorial standards and inaccuracies as the People’s Daily, without ever explaining what was supposedly incorrect about Branstad’s article:

Zhao asked the media present at the press conference that “If China, like the US, provides you with an article that seriously distorts the facts and attacks your country, and asks you to reply tomorrow and promise not to make any changes and publish the full text, would you do that?”

This had nothing to do with freedom of the press. The US’ intention was not good. It was meant to set China up, Zhao said, demanding the US stop spreading rumors, abandon their bullying practices, and respect press freedom with actions.

While the US called the People’s Daily and other Chinese media the CPC’s “propaganda machines,” it demanded that “propaganda machines” do propaganda for the US, which is illogical, overbearing and unreasonable, the People’s Daily and the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. 

The State Department published Branstad’s op-ed in full on Wednesday. As Secretary Pompeo indicated, it begins with hopes for a more “constructive, results-oriented relationship” with China. Branstad then chastised the Chinese government for exploiting America’s open society and willingness to make compromises in the pursuit of better relations.

“Often [China’s leadership] has insisted we sweep differences under the table as a prerequisite for engagement. Sometimes it made promises to address our concerns yet failed to follow up. As a result, our relationship has delivered fewer and fewer of the results that matter to the American people,” Branstad wrote.

The most accusatory passage of Branstad’s article is probably the section Chinese censors did not want their people to read:

As an open society, the United States has welcomed Chinese companies into our markets to sell products to American consumers, to invest and bid on projects, and to raise capital. We have welcomed Chinese students and researchers into our universities and laboratories, where they have acquired knowledge to modernize and develop China’s economy. While U.S. journalists face restrictions on reporting and even entering China, Chinese state media workers have long enjoyed open access in the United States. PRC diplomats have open access to American society, while our diplomats in China are required to navigate a state approval system for even the most basic engagements with the Chinese people.

The Chinese government, while benefiting from our openness, has exploited it — in a way that is increasingly inconsistent with international norms. Some Chinese entities have purchased American companies not to create jobs, but to acquire technology that is then taken back to China and developed to compete against us. Some Chinese companies have raised money on our stock exchanges yet refused to subject themselves to the standard auditing rules required by all other listed companies, U.S. or foreign. A small number of Chinese students and researchers use access to our universities, research facilities and companies to steal American intellectual property. These actions have not only harmed our bilateral relations but also tarnished the remarkable legitimate economic progress that the Chinese people are rightfully proud of.

Branstad followed this by defending U.S. actions against “Chinese companies, including well-known ones like Huawei, that have stolen U.S. intellectual property, circumvented U.S. export controls, or posed a threat to the security of citizens’ private data and our communication networks.”

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