The Trump administration has accepted an invitation from Europe’s top diplomat to join a new “US-EU dialogue on China,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday, escalating pressure on Beijing by Washington and its allies.
“We have to work together to continue the transatlantic awakening to the China challenge, in the interest of preserving our free societies, our prosperity and our future,” Pompeo said at a Washington think tank event held over the Zoom videoconferencing app. “It won’t be easy.”
“I don’t want the future to be shaped by the CCP, and I would wager no one on this call wants that either,” Pompeo said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
The announcement comes amid a steady downward spiral in US-China relations. Just this week, lawmakers moved to potentially open the door to private lawsuits against China for Covid-19 damages, while the Trump administration threatened new tariffs against China’s seafood industry.
Even as Pompeo was speaking, the US Senate was moving to pass a bill, the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, that could enhance sanctions against officials who violate China’s commitments to Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.
Pompeo spoke at the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum, an annual conference put on by the Washington-based non-profit organisation that invites politicians and business leaders to speak about global affairs.
Asked to elaborate on the dialogue, Pompeo did not say when it would start or give any other details, saying only that he envisioned it as a “catalyst for action”.
“On our side, we will work to make sure we have a shared set of facts and then create a set of proposals for things that we can do together,” Pompeo said.
He called it “a new mechanism for discussing the concerns we have about the threat China poses to the West and our shared democratic ideals”.
There are signs that the EU’s views on China – and the US – may be worsening during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a public opinion study published this week, the European Council on Foreign Relations said both countries’ reputations in Europe have plummeted because of the pandemic.
“The crisis also seems to have inflicted dramatic and lasting damage on the reputations of Europe’s two biggest economic partners,” the report said.
And last week, the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) nations, along with the EU’s top diplomat, issued a rare joint statement urging China to reconsider its decision to introduce a controversial national security law in Hong Kong.
The officials expressed “grave concern” and said the law “would risk seriously undermining the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and the territory’s high degree of autonomy”.
The G7 comprises the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the EU.
Earlier this month, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, spoke with Pompeo and said before their meeting that Europe was not willing to form a transatlantic alliance against China.
“Amid US-China tensions as the main axis of global politics, the pressure to ‘choose sides’ is increasing,” he said. “We as Europeans have to do it ‘my way’, with all the challenges this brings,” Borrell said, referencing the song made popular by Frank Sinatra.
In May, Borrell had also said that China is “not shy” about playing on differences between EU countries during the pandemic and trying to use them to their advantage.
Last year, the European Commission called China a “systemic rival”.
Pompeo said these tensions were China’s own making.
“The United States is not forcing Europe to choose between the free world or China’s authoritarian vision,” Pompeo said on Thursday. “China is making that choice between freedom and democracy.”
Asked what he thought of Western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi famously replied, “I think that would be a good idea.”