On 6 January 2021, the same day as President Donald Trump crossed the red line into incitement of insurrection in Washington through the assault on the Capitol, his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also crossed a line in provocations against China.
He issued a strong statement condemning China for the mass arrests in Hong Kong and threatened sanctions against any individual or entity involved in the attack on the Hong Kong people. Where he crossed the line was by adding “I am pleased to announce the upcoming visit of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft to Taiwan, a reliable partner and vibrant democracy that has flourished despite CCP efforts to undermine its great success. Taiwan shows what a free China could achieve.” Three days later he added further fuel to the fire by declaring the self-imposed restrictions on US diplomats, service members, and other officials’ interactions with Taiwanese counterparts as “null and void”.
Fortunately, Craft’s visit was later cancelled, due to the forthcoming Biden transition. Mike Pompeo was also intending to visit Europe but also made a last-minute cancellation, ostensibly due to the change in president, but in fact, several major Europeans he had intended to visit indicated he was not welcome.
Though obviously relieved at the cancellation of a visit to Taiwan by so senior an official as the representative to the United Nations, China had made no attempt to disguise its displeasure over increased relations with Taiwan. Considering how much Taiwan matters to the Beijing leaders, and how provocative Pompeo has been in his behaviour towards the People’s Republic of China in the last few months, it is difficult to imagine anything he could do more likely to anger the PRC in his last days as secretary of state. Maybe he is just preparing the ground for a tilt at the presidency himself in 2024.
And then on 12 January, a secret strategic Trump Administration document from 2018 was released prematurely about the Indo-Pacific. Its content was to note emerging convergence with a range of countries, including India, Japan, Australia, South Korea and others, but the list also includes Taiwan. Not surprisingly, the enemy is set up as China. Probably the reason for the premature release was to try and tie the hands of the incoming Biden Administration.
The mainstream media have warned that China would use the chaos in Washington to provoke an attack on Taiwan. It seems to me, however, that precisely the opposite is happening. It is Washington that’s doing the provoking, with Pompeo apparently doing as much damage to relations with China as he can on his way out the door. He seems to enjoy poking Beijing in the eye, an action I think should be condemned in the strongest possible terms, especially considering the “century of humiliation” that was hopefully firmly in the past. Meanwhile, China is acting with restraint so remarkable that it’s difficult to know how long it can last. If he has any sense at all Biden will renounce Pompeo’s latest provocations.
On 10 January Marise Payne and the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, but not New Zealand, issued a statement that they wanted to “underscore our serious concern at the mass arrests of 55 politicians and activists in Hong Kong for subversion under the National Security Law.” Fortunately, this joint statement avoided mentioning Taiwan. This is a line that even loyal allies are so far unwilling to cross. If ever there was an issue that Australia and others should keep right out of, it is Taiwan. It is true that for China this is an issue of top importance, whereas the West and especially the United States do not really care about it. But I would argue that, since the international community, including the United States, still recognizes Taiwan as a province of China, to change that now would be unprecedented treachery and folly, and a huge and unwarranted insult to China, which could easily lead to war.
As for Hong Kong, China immediately demanded Washington respect its judicial sovereignty. One can imagine how scornful the United States or Australia would be at Chinese intervention in our law systems. In a news conference on 7 July spokesperson Hua Chunying noted a big irony. She noted that in July 2019 there were riots in Hong Kong, with violent protestors breaking into the Legislative Council, ransacking the main chamber, smashing facilities, and throwing toxic liquid and powder at police officers. Powerful Westerners had described the scene as “a beautiful sight” and the rioters as “democratic heroes”: “The American people stand with them.” But when the same thing happens in Washington, she said, the protestors were “rioters”, “extremists” and “thugs” carrying out “an assault on democracy”.
In an opinion piece in The Australian (11 January), right-wing analyst Alan Dupont dismissed the distinction Hua had raised: “This is spurious”, he wrote. “There is no moral equivalence between a society that defends its democratic institutions and one that subjugates its people to the dictates of an autocrat.” Actually, I think there is a moral equivalence. Both sets of protestors were unjustifiably trying to damage legitimate legislatures. What makes the difference is the eyes of the beholder.
The coalition of groupings coming out in support of Trump during the last few days of his presidency is very striking. Here’s a very incomplete list.
In Australia, they include anti-China hawks such as Queensland Liberal Member for Dawson George Christensen and New South Wales Liberal Member for Hughes Craig Kelly. Several Chinese groups hostile to the CCP have expressed ongoing support for Trump, such as the government in Taiwan, Hong Kong former and current protestors and even some dissidents who marched against the authorities in Beijing in 1989.
The sooner we are rid of Trump and his Secretary of State Pompeo, the better. This Administration has done more damage to both American and Australian relations with China than any since the 1960s. There’s no need for me to contribute here to the speculation about what incoming President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will be like. But they’d have to be better than Trump and Pompeo.
The Washington insurrection reveals a faltering American society in which serious divisions, violence and racial, class and other inequalities appear to be worsening. What follows about Australia-China relations is that we should downgrade our security relations with the United States. It is not a country appropriate for us to deal with on such a level.