(CNSNews.com) – From the Taiwan Strait to China’s ambitious global infrastructure plans, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers Wednesday of ways in which the United States is pushing back against Beijing in what he called an age of “renewed great power competition.”
He also said the Trump administration has taken a different approach from previous ones in response to Chinese actions.
“We have taken a much fuller view than previous administrations – this is not partisan, this goes back to Republicans and Democrats alike – on the concerns about the risk that China presents to American wealth creation and our continued democracy,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
While testifying before two House panels on the administration’s FY 2020 State and foreign and foreign operations budget request, Pompeo heard and shared concerns about China’s Belt-and-Road initiative (BRI).
“They’re able to bully many of these peaceful Asian countries with economic enslavement, with the, what’s it called? The belt and – whatever,” Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) said during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing. “Economic investment that they make in a country and then jerk out that financing at a later time.”
“What are we doing in Indo-Pacific, to be sure that we protect … all of the millions of people in that region from being dominated by the bully China?” Rogers asked.
Pompeo spoke about a range of responses to China’s behavior, including asserting freedom of navigation in disputed waters and reacting to Chinese trade practices.
“It’s America being present,” he said. “It’s us assisting our companies, ensuring that where there’s a bid tender in Indonesia or Vietnam or in Australia or Japan or South Korea, that the competition is fair and free, and that the Chinese showing up with debt diplomacy or, worse yet, corruption and bribery, isn’t something that drives the rule of law and transparency out of the way.”
The BRI (aka “One Belt, One Road”) is a massive infrastructure and investment program stretching across Asia and the Middle East into Europe and Africa. China says the aim is to promote economic growth and global trade through overland and maritime transportation routes.
In recent days, G7 member Italy became the first major economy to sign a non-binding BRI memorandum of understanding with China, prompting European Union leaders to seek ways of presenting a united front when it comes to trade with China.
Asked in the HFAC hearing about the Italian decision, Pompeo said, “it’s disappointing any time any country begins to engage in behavior and commercial interactions with China that aren’t straight up.”
He said the Chinese were entitled to compete transparently around the world.
“I’m convinced that we’ll do great if there are rule of law transactions that are open and transparent. That is not the case with many of the initiatives under One Belt, One Road.”
In smaller, poorer countries, Pompeo said, the results of “the debt trap diplomacy, this predatory lending that takes place” had become evident more quickly.
“It may feel good in the moment. You think you’ve got a cheap product or a low-cost bridge or road built,” he said. “And in the end there will be a political cost attached to that which will greatly exceed the economic value of what you were provided.”
Relationship with Taiwan
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) asked Pompeo about policy towards Taiwan, and whether the administration would further implement the Taiwan Travel Act.
Introduced by Chabot and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and signed into law a year ago, the measure allows for U.S. officials “at all levels” of government to visit and meet with their Taiwan counterparts, marking a shift in decades-old U.S. policy.
Under that legislation, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom Sam Brownback this month paid a visit to Taiwan and met with President Tsai Ing-Wen.
Pompeo said the administration has been implementing the Taiwan Travel Act and, “I’m sure there’s more to follow. I don’t want to get too far out ahead of what we’re doing, but make no mistake about it, we understand the importance of that relationship.”
He also drew attention to the sailing in recent days of a U.S. Navy destroyer and Coast Guard cutter through the Taiwan Strait – a mission which the U.S. military said “demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
China’s communist government views Taiwan as a rebel province that will ultimately be reincorporated into the mainland, and strongly resents any actions that underline its sovereignty.