Declaring at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library that "the old paradigm of blind engagement with China has failed," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday announced a new approach toward the Chinese Communist Party (CCP): "Distrust and verify."
In stark and sobering remarks, Pompeo warned Americans that "if we bend the knee now, our children's children may be at the mercy of the CCP, whose actions are the primary challenge to the free world."
Pompeo's address came a day after the FBI revealed that the CCP has implemented a "program" to secretly and illegally plant military researchers in several U.S. universities to pilfer sensitive materials. Earlier in the week, the State Department announced that China's consulate in Houston would be closed, with Pompeo saying the complex was "a hub of spying and IP theft." China has vowed retaliation.
Against that fraught backdrop, Pompeo promised action that he distinguished from Cold War-era "containment," which aimed to stop the spread of communism and keep the Soviet Union isolated.
"It’s true that unlike the Soviet Union, China is deeply integrated into the global economy," he said. "But Beijing is more dependent on us than we are on them."
Hours after the FBI alleged a coordinated scheme by China to "send military scientists to the United States on false pretenses with false covers or false statements about their true employment," Pompeo emphasized that the immigration system was prone to abuse.
"We opened our arms to Chinese citizens, only to see the CCP exploit our free and open society," Pompeo continued, in perhaps his most pointed remarks directed at the Chinese government. "General Secretary Xi Jinping is a true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology."
Throughout his address, which also warned of the encroaching national security threats of major Chinese technology companies, Pompeo took pains to distinguish the CCP from the Chinese people.
"Communists always lie, but the biggest lie is that the Chinese Communist Party speaks for 1.4 billion people who are surveilled, oppressed, and scared to speak out," Pompeo remarked. "Quite the contrary. The CCP fears the Chinese people’s honest opinions more than any foreign foe. And save for losing their own grip on power, they have no reason to."
Pompeo specifically honored Tiananmen Square survivor Wang Dan, as well as the man Pompeo identified as the "father of the Chinese democracy movement, Wei Jingsheng," who "spent decades in Chinese labor camps for his advocacy."
The only way to truly change Communist China, Pompeo went on, "is to act on the basis of what its leaders do, not what they say. President Reagan dealt with the Soviets on the basis of 'trust but verify.' When it comes to the CCP, I say, 'Distrust and verify.'"
Previous Trump administration measures against Chinese officials, students and researchers have included travel bans, registration requirements and other steps intended to reduce the country's footprint in the United States. The administration also has announced its outright rejection of virtually all Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea.
These actions have come as Trump has sought to blame China for the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., where cases have soared. Trump himself said more closures could be coming if China didn't change its behavior. "It's always possible," he told reporters at the White House.
Pompeo similarly hit that theme. "Just think how much better off the world would’ve been if the doctors in Wuhan had been allowed to raise the alarm about the outbreak of a new coronavirus," he said.
The State Department announced it ordered the consulate closed within 72 hours after alleging that Chinese agents have tried to steal data from facilities in Texas, including the Texas A&M medical system statewide and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
There were indications consulate staff were preparing to leave: Papers were being burned on the consulate grounds late Tuesday night — a common practice when a diplomatic post is being shuttered on short notice.
Cai Wei, the Chinese consul general, told KTRK-TV in Houston the order to shut down was "quite wrong" and "very damaging" to U.S.-China relations.
Asked about accusations of espionage and stealing data, Cai said, "You have to give some evidence, say something from the facts. ... Knowing Americans, you have the rule of law, you are not guilty until you are proved guilty."
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that the closure was "to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information."
Fox News' Nicholas Kalman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.