Reinforcing his action back home, the State Department said it would make the Washington headquarters of the Confucius Institute U.S. Center register as a foreign mission.
In a statement, Pompeo called the institute, which sponsors dozens of educational centers at universities and schools in the United States, “part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus.”
The dual actions were the latest in a series of restrictions and punishments the administration is applying to China and people who work for the ruling Communist Party. Pompeo and other U.S. officials claim previous administrations turned a “blind eye” to China’s aggression and expanding influence around the world with the naive hope it would become less repressive.
According to the State Department, there are 75 Confucius Institute facilities around the United States, the vast majority on college campuses. Many universities have already shut them down.
“We want people to go to this with their eyes open,” said David Stillwell, the assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Under the designation, the headquarters of the Confucius Institute will have to give the State Department lists of its employees and assets, but no centers will be required to close.
China hawks in Congress have long been critical of the centers.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said their main goals are to spread propaganda and spy on Chinese students studying in the United States.
“Teaching Mandarin at campus institutes is mainly a cover story for Chinese Communist Party spying,” he said in a statement.
Pompeo has been pressing other countries to confront China more directly, as he did in Prague on Wednesday when he said the Chinese Communist Party runs “campaigns of coercion and control,” and is more threatening than the former Soviet Union.
“The CCP is already enmeshed in our economies, in our politics, in our societies in ways the Soviet Union never was,” he said, using an acronym for the party.
China responded with indignation, accusing Pompeo of spreading “false information.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters Thursday that Pompeo was repeating the “lie that ignores the facts.”
“We must point out that Pompeo and his likes are trying to hitch the international community to the anti-communist and anti-China chariot,” Zhao said. “The schemes of Pompeo and others are doomed to fail.”
On his initial stops in his four-country visit to Central and Eastern Europe, Pompeo has hammered away at China and Huawei. His visit to Slovenia, the native country of first lady Melania Trump, was also aimed at stopping it from shifting its affiliation toward Russia.
“There has been no political dialogue between the two countries because Slovenia has been drifting towards Russia’s sphere of influence,” Božo Cerar, a former diplomat for the country, told the Slovenian broadcaster Nova24TV.
The view reflects a sense in Slovenia that its support of U.S. policies has not paid off. The country backed the Bush administration ahead of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and joined NATO the following year.
President Trump’s election in 2016 raised expectations he would give his wife’s homeland more attention, but the early optimism fizzled.
Now, hopes are rising that by joining the administration’s campaign against Chinese vendors like Huawei, Slovenia may engender the appreciation that has so far eluded it.
Huawei is the second-most-popular smartphone maker in Slovenia, according to the tracking firm Statcounter. The company recently said it was open to talks with the Slovenian government to assure security, including a no-spy agreement, according to the country’s state news agency, STA.
But it is unclear whether that will go through.
“I know that Slovenia prides itself on being a science and technology leader, and becoming a 5G clean country, as you’re doing today, solidifies that position,” Pompeo said. “The tide is turning against the Chinese Communist Party and its efforts to restrict freedom for all of us.”
Trusnovec reported from Koper, Slovenia. William Glucroft in Berlin contributed to this report.