Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 2 April 2021


Covid ‘just China’s first virus threat’: Pompeo

Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Picture: AFP
Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Picture: AFP
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The world faces new pandemic outbreaks at least as deadly as COVID-19 because of the ­continued biological weapons ­research being undertaken in Chinese laboratories, Donald Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo has declared.

“The Chinese Communist Party continues to engage in this sort of biological research,” Mr Pompeo told The Weekend ­Australian in a wide-ranging ­interview.

“The risk of this sort of thing happening again from a Chinese facility is real and significant.

“We can see in the millions of lives lost and the billions of dollars of wealth that’s been destroyed, the world must make sure that this does not happen again.”

Mr Pompeo believes that COVID-19 originated in a Wuhan laboratory, but that it was not released intentionally by Chinese authorities.

“I am highly confident the virus began in Wuhan, China,” he said. “I am reasonably confident it came from the (Wuhan Institute of Virology) laboratory. I am less certain of that and the CCP has diligently tried to make sure we never know. But the weight of evidence suggests it likely came from that laboratory.”

Mr Pompeo is unimpressed by the joint World Health Organisation/China investigation into the origins of the virus and said Beijing stood condemned for its cover-up.

“We still don’t know who patient zero was,” he said. “We still haven’t seen the original strain. We still haven’t interviewed the doctors that were working in the laboratory.

“The central moment that the Chinese knew they had a virulent virus that was human-to-human transmissible, their choice was to lock down Wuhan and to lock down the world from understanding the risk that was presented to it. That cover-up alone, regardless of where the virus actually began, is something the CCP must be held to account for.”

Before he became secretary of state in 2017, Mr Pompeo was CIA director; before that he was a member of the congressional ­intelligence committee. He endorsed recent remarks by US Indo-Pacific commander Philip Robertson that Beijing could launch military action against Taiwan in the next few years.

“In my time in service I saw the Chinese actions and the intelligence we had about their intentions,” Mr Pompeo said.

“The reunification of Taiwan is something they are intent upon. The means that they will use are likely to be coercive at the front end and military at the back end, only when necessary.”

Mr Pompeo believes the best way to avoid conflict and safeguard regional democracies is for the US and its allies to make clear to Beijing that military action against Taiwan would come at an enormous cost.

Mr Pompeo sees the Quadrilateral Dialogue, involving the US, Australia, Japan and India, as critical in resisting Chinese ­domination. “These are four great friends,” he said. “They are real democracies, with all the noise and hubbub that comes with that, but they are real democracies working every day to make their countries great.”

Mr Pompeo said the chief method of coercion Beijing ­employed was economic power, citing recent trade actions against Australia as an example. But the Quad nations between them were powerful enough to resist such ­coercion, he said.

“We four represent a very ­significant piece of the economic activity between free and open ­societies. We should do our best to get rid of tariffs on each other, make sure we have as open and free arrangements between our countries as we can, and demand that other countries participate on the basis of those same rules.”

However, Mr Pompeo believes the US and its allies, including Australia, are not acting with sufficient vigour in the hi-tech competition with Beijing.

“We are not doing enough, not nearly enough,” he said.

Hi-tech fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing, blockchain and a few others would be the “commanding heights of the next generation” whereas in the past they were resources such as oil. “We must make sure the technology of the future is democratic technology and not totalitarian technology,” he said.

He gave a cautious pass mark to the Joe Biden administration in its early handling of China and Asia policy. “I’m hopeful,” he said. “There is a bipartisan consensus in the US on the threat from China. I’m rooting for the current administration to have the backs of our friends like Australia, India and our friends in Southeast Asia as they are confronted by all the things we know the Chinese are likely to do.”

Mr Pompeo strongly contests the idea that Beijing is a status quo power with limited objectives.

“The Chinese Communist Party deeply believes their ­Marxist/Leninist ideology is the right ideology for the world, and they attempt to impose that ideology everywhere. Their intentions are to undermine democracy.”

He is more critical of the Biden administration in its weakening of US policy towards Iran, and cites the recent China-Iran economic agreement as a dangerous development.

“The Chinese need oil and the Iranians need money and weapons systems,” he said.

Because of the Biden administration’s weakening of US sanctions on Iran, Mr Pompeo said Tehran now faced almost no limitations on the weapons systems it could acquire.

“You will see increased trafficking in arms systems,” he said.

“The Iranians have the ­capacity to build some of these on their own. But Chinese cyber capabilities, Chinese missile ­technology, all the things the ­Chinese have been working on these last 25 years are now likely to find their way to an ayatollah who will use them to destabilise the Middle East. It’s a really negative outcome to see China and Iran working so closely together.”

Mr Pompeo would not accept that his former boss’s language and undisciplined tweets were a significant problem.

He argued that the Trump ­administration deserved to be judged by what it did, rather than whether it lived up to diplomatic niceties.

Rumours are strong that Mr Pompeo plans to run for the presidency in 2024.

He said: “It’s a long ways off. I’m always up for a good fight. But I have a mission before that.

“The Republicans do not control any of the Houses of Congress. We’ve got to get them back. I want to help that happen.”

That response will convince both his admirers and his critics that Mr Pompeo plans to have a crack at the Oval Office.

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