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International relations

Q&A with Mike Pompeo: We won't bend the knee to China

Trump in good spirits and giving guidance, secretary says

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks with Nikkei Asia in Tokyo on Oct. 6. (Photo by Konosuke Urata)

TOKYO -- In an exclusive interview with Nikkei at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Tokyo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the Obama administration's "pivot to Asia," saying that "No Asian leader has told me they saw anything happen as a result of that."

He also said he had spoken with President Donald Trump for an hour and a half before flying to Japan.

Here is an edited transcript of the interview:

Q: To start with, please allow me to ask about the health condition of the president, and its impact on U.S. diplomacy.

Pompeo: So I had a chance to speak with the president just before I took off from Washington. I spoke to him for about an hour and a half. We covered a full range of topics. He seemed in good spirits. He certainly provided all the guidance that he always does for me, and he was happy for me to be able to come here and congratulate Prime Minister [Yoshihide] Suga in person.

And as for American diplomacy, our institutions are strong. This administration is now, goodness, almost four years on. I understand the president's objectives, and we are working diligently toward them. I'm glad to hear that he's now back in the White House, and it sounds like he's feeling a little bit better. We're excited about that, and I'm confident that American foreign policy will continue in the same way it has for the past three years.

Q: Let me start with the Quad. There's going to be a second foreign ministers' meeting. So the Quad is evolving, and there are many other countries that share the same security concerns in this region. How do you think the Quad should develop as the leading Indo-Pacific security framework for the future?

Pompeo: I believe the Quad has already proven and will continue to prove very useful and effective in providing all the tools and instruments to make sure there is prosperity and freedom in the region, in a free and open Indo-Pacific. You know, we share a number of things. We share our democracy, we share our economic might. These are very capable nations with capable economies and capable security apparatuses, and it's really been something to watch. Not only has the Quad improved our coordination amongst each other, but you can see in Japan, we're growing closer, Australia and Japan are growing closer.

President Trump made clear that not every multilateral institution was worth a darn. It's all about whether it actually delivers profitable, successful outcomes, good deals for all of the constituents. This is only the second time that the four ministers have met, but I believe today we will come up with practical ways to begin to implement the things we can do together.

And I think your point goes to whether there are other countries that might become part of this? You know, at the appropriate time, once we've institutionalized what we're doing, the four of us together, we can begin to build out a true security framework, a fabric that can counter the challenge that the Chinese Communist Party presents to all of us.

Q: It might become a security framework by institutionalizing?

Pompeo: Remember when one talks about security, one's talking about economic capacity and the rule of law, the ability to protect intellectual property, trade agreements, diplomatic relationships -- all of the elements that form a security framework. It's not just military. It's much deeper, it's much broader than that. It's the kind of power that democracies have that authoritarian regimes can never deliver on.

Q: And on Taiwan, as we've observed from Tokyo, the U.S. and Taiwan exchange has accelerated. There were mutual ministerial visits and also establishment of U.S.-Taiwan economic ties. In this context, do you have a desire to visit Taiwan during your tenure?

Pompeo: The United States has had a longstanding relationship with Taiwan. We operate under the same set of principles. Sadly, the Chinese Communist Party refuses to stand by the commitment that it made. The Chinese set of commitments, whether it was the promises they made to the people of Hong Kong that they said, "Hey, for 50 years you can have this deal," and then they walked away from it. They promised President [Barack] Obama [they] would not arm the South China Sea with weapons systems, but they immediately proceeded to violate that set of promises.

What the U.S. under President Trump has done is we truly focused on security for the Indo-Pacific and freedom for the nations of the Indo-Pacific. We delivered real, tangible support outcomes. The previous administration talked about this pivot to Asia. No Asian leader has told me they saw anything happen as a result of that. We instead have taken a very direct, very candid mission that says we're going to support these countries, we're going to build and work with [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries, we're gonna work with [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation], we're gonna work with our friends as part of the Quad.

We're going to deliver out a comprehensive set of relationships. The kind of relationships that happen because of the warm ties between the American and the Japanese people, those things permit us to work together in ways that China could never match. We will work to develop those relationships so that we can provide a more prosperous, more secure Japan, a more prosperous and secure region and a more prosperous and secure, more stable, peaceful world as well.

Q: If there is military tension rising in the Taiwan Strait, if China unilaterally attacks Taiwan, do you think the U.S. is ready to engage militarily?

Pompeo: We are doing everything we can to reduce the tension there. It's been President Trump's mission all around the world. We look to bring peace, not conflict. The shame of it is the Chinese Communist Party, I can identify too many [places] -- whether it's the challenges they're presenting to the Vietnamese, who just want to drill in their own economic zone; whether it's here in Japan where they threaten and force you to scramble jets with tremendous frequency in the Senkaku Islands; what's happening in the Himalayas -- this is Chinese bullying. This is the Chinese using coercive power. This isn't how great nations operate.

So our mission, as the U.S., is to reduce that. The last thing I'll say is, we've only come to recognize that appeasement's not the answer. If one bends the knee each time the Chinese Communist Party takes action around the world, one will find themselves having to bend the knee with great frequency. So we have pushed back in a serious way with my diplomatic counterparts. Our military has been very active in the region, ensuring that we have a presence so that we can ensure that there is, in fact, a capacity for a free and open Indo-Pacific. These are the kind of things one does, whether it's Taiwan or the challenge presented to Japan, the United States will be a good partner for security in every dimension.

Q: What does the U.S. expect Japan to do more to cooperate more closely? What's the most lacking [element] in cooperation between the U.S. and Japan?

Pompeo: There are many places we do cooperate already. To your first point, our concept of the Clean Network is no different than what I think the Japanese people would ask for. I want to make sure the citizens of Japan don't have their data in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party. That's a bad and dangerous thing. We say that to countries all across the world. This isn't, it gets framed as the United States versus China, but this is simple, right? This is private data not to be in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party's national security apparatus.

This is something every nation wants, whether it's the Clean Network or our pushback against state-owned enterprises like Huawei [Technologies], which come to countries and show up with a business proposition which is nothing more than truly a network of the Chinese state to undermine the freedom and sovereignty of the country in which they're operating.

Those are places in which Japan has a sophisticated security team, sophisticated capacity [and] a bold, innovative, creative economy. Those are places where we can all -- and I'm saying you've got a ... fund to [reshore] businesses -- those are the kinds of things our countries can work on together and make each of us less dependent on China. And as a result, the coercive power of the Chinese Communist Party will be greatly diminished.

Interview by Nikkei commentator Hiroyuki Akita and Nikkei staff writer Eri Sugiura

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