SECRETARY POMPEO: (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thanks, General Schwartz, for that very kind introduction. As I walked in here tonight, it was great to see a lot of old friends. Just saw there were buddies of mine from the class of 1986. Also it’s been great fun; I got a chance to reacquaint myself with a lot of C-officers. There’s actually more than any of you think. (Laughter.) Yeah, look to your left, look to your right.
It’s an incredible privilege to receive this award from this group of people, who have committed their whole life to taking care of America and protecting Americans every place that you serve. I thought I’d spend just one minute tonight, because I may get pulled out of here at any second – it was a busy day – (laughter) – one second tonight talking about two things that are very much on my mind.
I know when you receive an award, you’re supposed to say thank you and get off stage. I thought I’d just spend a minute, because I don’t get in front of a group of people like this very often, who are both committed to commerce and the economy – at the State Department, we know absent a robust, growing United States, the chances of us executing our national security mission is very low – and at the same time, a group of people who have dedicated so much of their life to keeping their fellow Americans safe.
Today we worked on a problem set starting from about 2:30 this morning until literally as I worked in – walked in, a place where the singularly worst humanitarian crisis, absent conflict, absent war, in the history of the world. And we are – we’re diligently working with the support of lots of people in this room to head down the path to restore democracy in this place that so richly deserves it. I said this afternoon we’ve made so much progress. The diplomatic team and the team that supported it have made so much progress. We literally had Nicolas Maduro getting prepared to get on this airplane and head out of the country before he was stopped, stopped really at the direction of the Russians.
And I must say, there’ll be another sunrise tomorrow; the opportunity for Venezuelan democracy, I am confident, will remain. But please know that you have got a team not just at the State Department but in the intelligence community and in the military who are very focused on protecting the Venezuelan people, restoring their dignity, growing their economy. Once this is over, we will need all of you. There is much work to do, and a team that is very committed to creating democracy here in the Western Hemisphere. (Applause.)
I thought, too – I thought it’s really cool to get an award with Ross Perot, Jr., and Gary Sinise. I mean, that’s just – (laughter) – that’s just crazy for a guy from Kansas. But I also – I also get the Eisenhower Award, who of course went to the same school that I did and also hailed from the same state that I come from. So this is truly special.
I thought I’d impose on one more issue tonight, and this is something that I don’t have the answer to, but I’d love everyone to just think about a little bit. If we all remember the history of great conflicts, challenges presented to this country, each time one arose the private sector joined in, making sure that it did all that it could to support whatever national security mission that America was on – great patriots like yourself – whether it was the airplanes that were built, frankly many of them in the town from which I hailed in Wichita, Kansas, cranking airplanes off the line at Boeing to the tune of eight or ten a day, or later where challenges were faced by America and the private sector rose to meet the needs to help America stay secure.
Our fights today are a little bit different, and I thought I’d talk to you just for a minute about China and how it presents itself as a threat today. I’ve spoken to Secretary Kissinger now – it’s been three or four weeks, I think – and was talking to him, and he reminded me of the amazing work that he had done when he was in my role, in China, with the belief that if the economy grew and democracy would surely follow in China. And we’ve seen that that has just simply not proven to be the case.
Today, we face challenges – and you face challenges – I was a small business owner; I both sold products in China and purchased materials from China. But today, the challenge is very different. As each of you are thinking about the national security imperative with respect to China, whether it’s the work that they’re doing to install their technology and networks inside of your business or our country or those of your partners, or whether it’s their efforts to out-compete the United States of America, but with not a competitive objective but rather a national security imperative, and the advantages they face in some of those challenge – battle spaces, because the idea of a private sector energy is – entity is literally foreign to them.
We have a separation between government and private sector that they simply don’t have, and that has real implications for how it is we, as the leaders tasked with defending America today, interact with them.
So as you’re thinking about your business and how it’s engaged in commerce in China – we watch the massive human rights violations in Xinjiang, where there are over a million people being held in a humanitarian crisis that is the scale of what took place in the 1930s, and we see American businesses and their technology being used to help facilitate that activity from the Chinese Government – it’s something worthy of thinking about.
And that’s literally all I can leave you with tonight, because I don’t know the answer. I am a deep believer, as someone who ran for office as a very conservative Republican, who believed the government ought to just get the heck out of the way for the private sector and let them all go out and crush it – my duty, my first duty, was to my employees and my shareholders, the team which I represented; my fiduciary obligations indeed ran that way. I know you all think about a broader set of issues, and as we work to figure out how to deal with China – a billion and a half people that provide very important markets for the United States of America, and yet a country that at the same time presents enormous risk over the coming years and decades – to help all of us think about the right way to approach this and how it is the case that we can achieve our national security objective while ensuring that America continues to grow and prosper and our private sector crushes them every place that we compete.
I’ll leave you with that. I wanted to make sure in this august audience with this unique set of people I had a chance to share that idea. I would take on all of your thoughts. But most importantly, I wanted to thank this group for honoring me and my family and the State Department for all of the things that I’ve had the privilege to do. Now to lead America’s diplomatic corps is the highest honor amongst all of them, and you all have done an enormous honor to me tonight by giving this chance to be here with you and accept this award.
Thank you all. God bless you each. (Applause.)