Photo: AFP/Andrew Harnik
Mike Pompeo has taken a tough line against China. Photo: AFP/Andrew Harnik

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has taken charge of orchestrating the US attack on China. As President Donald Trump’s popularity drops further behind his rival, former vice-president Joe Biden, the more outlandish and outrageous have Pompeo’s provocations become.

The most recent is to accuse TikTok of being a threat to America’s national security. TikTok is a social-media platform introduced from China that has quickly attracted more than 100 million users in the US.

Pompeo offered no evidence or explanation of how TikTok can be a threat to national security, but the actual reason is envy. Pompeo is suffering from technology envy and market-share envy. He can’t conceive of anything from China that’s better than anything from America, such as Huawei before TikTok.

Pompous Pompeo is supposed to be a smart guy, but he doesn’t understand technology. He was upset when the CEOs of three of the four high-tech giants – Apple, Amazon and Google – at a recent congressional hearing, would not confirm being victims of intellectual-property theft by China.

Pompeo was offended that three of the most valuable American companies would not support his demonizing of China.

Zuckerberg rewarded

Among the four who testified, only Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was quick, nay even anxious, to confirm IP theft, even though he offered no concrete evidence in his broadly general testimony.

Of course, he might be biased, as TikTok’s popularity represents a threat for Facebook and is costing Facebook market share. 

In the social-media business, any loss of eyeballs translates directly to a loss of advertising revenue. In Silicon Valley, getting “zucked” means that a Facebook competitor either had been taken over or was driven out of business. But TikTok became too popular and too big too fast to get zucked over. 

Clearly, Facebook needed help to bring TikTok down and Zuckerberg had the favor from the Trump administration. Only last week Trump announced his intention to ban TikTok from the US unless the company was transferred to American ownership. 

It has been increasingly obvious to all Americans that anything is possible with The Friend in the White House. Become a cabinet officer or get appointed to a plum ambassadorship or get out of the prison or have an felony record expunged – all are possible with a hefty donation, and you have the Donald by your side. 

However, for Trump to order the sale of TikTok to Facebook would be too blatant even for him. Instead, he has given Microsoft 45 days to take advantage of the fire sale and close the deal.

He even expects a big cut from the sale to go to the US Treasury, and more than likely a private finder’s fee for his own pocket for “creating” the deal.

TikTok should sue White House

What should TikTok’s Chinese owners do? They face an utterly corrupt executive branch and a legislative branch that is either supinely compliant or willing partakers of the sleazy payoff from the White House. 

TikTok needs to take its case to the third co-equal branch of the US government, the judiciary. Recent decisions by the US Supreme Court, two Trump appointees notwithstanding, suggest that this body continues to consider upholding and protecting the constitution more important than bowing to political pressure.

At a minimum, the legal process would take the fate of TikTok beyond the November election. After that, the owners can hope for a new ball game in town.

The entire TikTok experience should give Beijing pause to rethink its approach to Washington. From Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi to Ambassador Cui Tiankai in Washington, China’s approach has been to try to reason with the US. It is wasting its time. 

Pompeo has no inclination to be reasonable. He has no interest in acting in the best interests of the American people. He is only interested in taking the US to the brink of war, in case the Trump campaign needs to resort to a military confrontation as a last desperate measure to win re-election.

However, Trump has other options, so he may not have to resort to war with China. He could declare the election invalid because of mail-in ballots or some other alleged irregularity or postpone the election because of the pandemic he could not control. But those ramifications are beyond the scope of this discussion.

Pompeo’s technique is as if he is in a football game, wherein he could jump across the line of scrimmage and then penalize the other side for an offside infraction. America is used to winning against lesser countries with this bullying approach, so he was not the inventor.

Invasion follows human rights accusation

Accusing a target country of human-rights violations is a favorite tool for justifying American interference. Saddam Hussein was accused of depriving the Iraqis of freedom and democracy. And that was good enough reason to invade.

Today, Americans are still in Iraq and the citizens there are arguably less free and certainly enjoy less personal safety.

Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was accused of the same infraction, met the same fatal outcome and the country was left in complete turmoil. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is the more recent designated oppressor of human rights and Syria is in shambles.

Millions of Syrians have been killed or left homeless and forced to find safety elsewhere in Europe.

Every country invaded by the US under the guise of defending human rights has become a humanitarian disaster. And this is despite the irony that no country has been a worse abuser of human rights than the US. Just ask the folks in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Pompeo is using the human-rights cudgel with a difference. He makes broad and blanket accusations that show he doesn’t care about the validity of what he is saying. He is goading and provoking China to respond and raise the bilateral tension, all for the purpose of getting to the point where conflict becomes inevitable and somehow China is blamed as the bad guy.

Hear what an American businessman living in China has to say about the fallacies behind Pompeo’s position on YouTube.

Beijing’s tough challenge ahead

What should officials of Beijing government do in response? Admittedly with great difficulty, but Beijing must find ways to resist responding in quid pro quo fashion to every example of Pompeo’s baiting.

In some cases, if possible, simply ignore him. In others, signal that Beijing will wait until the November election to respond appropriately.

Pompeo knows nothing about China. He is said to be tutored by a professor of Chinese history, an ethnic Chinese formerly from the PRC now teaching at the Naval Academy. Judging from Pompeo’s anti-China rant given at the Nixon Library, the lessons didn’t do anything for him.

By repeatedly spitting out “Chinese Communist Party” throughout his speech as if those were expletives, Pompeo apparently sees himself as a liberator of the oppressed people of China.

The only problem is that more than 90% of the Chinese population approve of the way the single political party is governing China, more than double the approval rating Trump has with the American public.

Pompeo’s rewriting of Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China and the winning bilateral relations that ensued for decades was amateurish and embarrassingly childish. Rather than convincing nations to join his anti-China alliance, third parties may simply find his revisionist speech amusing, just as the Chinese people find Pompeo a joke.

Disdain for Pompeo 

Whenever possible Beijing should treat Pompeo with the disdain he richly deserves. Despite his top-notch academic record from West Point and Harvard Law, he has willingly subordinated his pride and integrity to shill for someone his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, called a moron.

In all cases, it’s crucial for Beijing to move the ball toward the goal of winning world opinion and the uphill challenge of explaining Pompeo’s lies and distortions to the American public. Professor Jeffrey Sachs has provided an excellent review of Pompeo’s behavior and consequences as a starting point.

Already some of the allies that Pompeo has assumed to be in his pocket are having second thoughts on the wisdom of following Pompeo’s all-club-and-no-carrot diplomacy. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted the US for a long time before reluctantly giving Huawei the boot.

This will cost the UK billions of pounds and years of lead time in installing a nationwide 5G network. He undoubtedly will review his decision after November.

Until recently, Canberra has been the most ardently loyal follower of Washington. Now many of Australia’s political leaders not named Scott Morrison are suddenly wondering: “Hey wait a minute, why are we going along with Pompeo’s China-bashing position when China is our most important customer and economic partner?” 

Nation of Change has questioned the wisdom of America waging a cold war – much less a hot one – with China: “Governments all over the world are collaborating with China to stop the spread of coronavirus and share the solutions with all who need them. The US must stop pursuing its counter-productive effort to undermine China, and instead work with all our neighbors on this small planet.”

For the sake of my fellow Americans and for all the people of the world, I hope the coming election will spell the end of the aberrant regime of Donald Trump and a petulant, hard-nosed Pompeo.

Dr George Koo recently retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is currently a board member of Freschfield’s, a novel green building platform.