The Chinese state broadcaster singled out the top U.S. diplomat in a remarkable extended segment during its evening newscast Wednesday.
“The world needs to be vigilant against the erosion to human peace caused by Pompeo, which is like that of a worm,” an anchor told hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers. “The entire diplomatic world ought to despise and suppress his conduct.”
In some ways, Pompeo’s frequent criticism of China touches on well-worn sore spots for Beijing, such as human rights abuses against minority Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region, its trade practices and alleged cases of espionage. But the depth of China’s scorn underlines the new, global dimensions of the U.S.-China rivalry.
In urging other countries to ban the Chinese tech company Huawei, for instance, Pompeo embodies the prospect that irks and unnerves China most: encirclement by the United States and its allies in a new Cold War.
Asked to respond to the attacks on Pompeo, a State Department spokesman said: “We will not comment on ad hominem Chinese Communist Party propaganda.”
A senior administration official said Pompeo has been voicing the position of the U.S. government.
“Pushing back against Chinese bad behavior was at the heart of President Trump’s campaign and remains at the center of his national security strategy,” the official said. “These are substantive issues that the United States is raising, from debt diplomacy to trade to the systematic subjugation of Muslims.”
This week, while U.S. and Chinese officials prepared for a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Japan, Pompeo was in New Delhi coaxing India to do more in the South China Sea against a mutual rival, China. In April, after the secretary of state blamed China for the crisis in Venezuela on a swing through Latin America, the Chinese envoy to Chile told a newspaper that Pompeo had gone mad.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang asked Pompeo to “take a break.”
“For quite some time, certain U.S. politicians have been touring the globe with the same script in their pockets: to smear China, starting fires and fanning the flames and sowing discord,” Lu told reporters.
Given his public-facing position, Pompeo has attracted Beijing’s ire more than China hawks who work behind the scenes, such as economic adviser Peter Navarro or national security adviser John Bolton. Even Trump gets a relative pass in the state media compared with Pompeo, who is pilloried on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
Vice President Pence is also viewed warily, Chinese foreign policy experts say, since he delivered a tough speech in October that was likened by many in Beijing to Winston Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” address.
The Chinese say that after Beijing and Washington navigated their bilateral relationship pragmatically for decades, officials such as Pompeo represent an ideological turn in the United States that fundamentally opposes the Communist Party’s governance.
“Mike Pompeo, along with Vice President Pence, are no doubt the two U.S. politicians that China hates the most at the moment,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University. “Pompeo cemented his ‘China-hater’ status by making a series of imperious and hard-line criticisms of China from our Xinjiang and Hong Kong policies to the Tiananmen protests in 1989. Worse still, he attempted to use all those aspects to attack China’s political system.”
Amid intensely personal pieces aimed at him this week, the Global Times newspaper referred to Pompeo’s tenure as the head of the CIA, mused on the prospect of his running for political office and suggested he was enriching himself through ties with the defense industry — all to build a portrait of a “malicious poisoner of global diplomacy.”
The paper weighed the legacy of American diplomats such as Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger. Pompeo should be considered more extreme in his opposition to China than the original “Cold War knight,” his Eisenhower-era predecessor John Foster Dulles, it concluded.
Zhu Feng, a prominent scholar at Nanjing University whose long-term U.S. visa was revoked as he left Los Angeles recently, said the criticism reflected a broad “nervousness” in China — from the government in Beijing to the business world to ordinary Chinese — about the U.S. government’s shifting posture toward China.
“In the U.S., Pompeo has been actively promoting hard-line China policies; on the international arena, he is also trying to fan hostility against Beijing as the trade war is turning into a bigger-scale tech war and a battle for global leadership,” Zhu said. “This, of course, has touched quite a few nerves in China.”
Until the criticism of Pompeo turned personal in recent weeks, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesmen seldom referred to foreign officials by name as they offered their daily takes on international events.
But on Thursday, spokesman Geng Shuang sounded almost weary as he responded — again — to Pompeo’s remarks in New Delhi, in which he warned Asian countries about the dangers of China’s infrastructure initiative.
“I don’t know what has gotten into Mr. Pompeo,” Geng said. “He never forgets the Belt and Road Initiative, and he talks about it wherever he goes.”
Lyric Li contributed to this report.