Pompeo Talks China in Unprecedented Foreign Policy Address in Wisconsin

The U.S. secretary of state spoke in the Wisconsin Senate chambers, discussing China's handling of the coronavirus and the threat of communism.

By Will Kenneally

September 23, 2020

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Mike Pompeo

U.S. Sec. of State Mike Pompeo takes questions after delivering a foreign policy address at the Wisconsin state Capitol Sept. 23, 2020.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took shots at China on the coronavirus and threats of communism during an unprecedented foreign policy speech to legislators at the Wisconsin state Capitol that comes amid the backdrop of the 2020 election.

“The Chinese Communist Party views itself as the true vanguard of Marxist-Leninist thought which proposes that communist countries like theirs must struggle and prevail against capitalist nations like ours,” Pompeo said. “This isn’t the Cold War, this is different in kind to be sure.”

Pompeo acknowledged the political appearance of the address, but said it was important to have a dialogue with state legislators.

“Some of the political press in Washington were saying, ‘what the heck’s the secretary going to Wisconsin for?’” he said. “What goes on here and the work that you all do is so important to the mission that I have.”

Pompeo reiterated his speech the Trump administration’s critique of China’s handling of the coronavirus, saying the ruling party allowed the spread of the virus abroad.

“The Chinese Communist Party knew early on how virulent the coronavirus was that originated in Wuhan. They did what authoritarian regimes do, they suppressed information,” he said.

Though the speech focused on foreign policy, largely the purview of the federal government, the secretary said there were steps that the state could take, including passing laws to help federal agencies with intellectual property protection.

“And as I told the nation’s governors, you can scrutinize your state pension funds,” he added. “As of its last report, the Wisconsin Retirement System is invested in China Mobile and China Telecom. Both are state owned giants and they’re an integral part of the Chinese Orwellian surveillance system.”

Charles Kupchan, a Wisconsin native who teaches international affairs at Georgetown University and served in national security at the Obama White House, questioned the venue, saying the speech would have been better suited for the United Nations.

“The fact that that is being done in Wisconsin right before a presidential election sends a signal to allies abroad that the United States is playing politics with foreign policy,” Kupchan said.

The secretary’s trip to Wisconsin came on the heels of another cabinet secretary visiting the state, Attorney General Bill Barr, who spoke in Milwaukee about the Department of Justice’s deployment of federal officers to U.S. cities.

Kupchan said it is important for federal and local officials to maintain a dialogue, but he felt that Pompeo’s trip breached a separation of politics and partisanship that is usually maintained.

“I recall when I was working in the White House in 2016, I regularly got emails from our ethics office telling me to steer clear of any political activity,” he said.

“This secretary of state participated in the Republican convention, now he has come to Wisconsin just a few weeks before the November election,” he added. “It’s definitely out of the norm when it comes to the rules for behavior in an election season.”

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