QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, welcome to Outsiders. You said the other day that the whole world is now waking up to the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations such as ours. Has the coronavirus unwittingly exposed the real face of Chinese communism?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, thanks for having me on, and that’s a – I think that’s a central question. My comments the other day reflected what has been decades of Western tolerance of behaviors that we don’t accept from anyplace else, and the nature of the Chinese Communist Party now, I think, has become clear as a result of this coronavirus. Those of us who have been watching this had been talking about this risk to the world. We know the nature of authoritarian regimes. We know what happens when there’s not freedom, when journalists can’t speak, when you can’t have open debate.
And then we’ve watched the Chinese Communist Party also expand its desire to have hegemonic influence around the world, whether that’s through the Belt and Road Initiative or other efforts to use government state-sponsored enterprises to achieve political and defense and security outcomes.
Those are the things I think the world could see. It saw that the reflexes to cover up, to hide, not to protect and secure and keep safe – those are the kind of things that authoritarian regimes do by nature, and it’s what happened to the world as a result of the coronavirus. And I think countries all across the globe can see that now.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, in late January, the World Health Organization was claiming there was no serious risk, no human-to-human transmission of the virus, but at the very same time, sir, the Chinese Government was sending employees of major Chinese firms here in Australia and elsewhere out to empty our shelves of surgical masks and essential medical supplies, sending tons – tons of critical equipment back to China. What should this tell us about both the World Health Organization and about China?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, President Trump has made clear that as we observe the actions of both the Chinese Communist Party and the World Health Organization from at least December through February of this year, they both tried to cover up what was going on. They knew it; they had information. They knew there was this risk. We saw them close down Hubei province but leave open flights to Milan and flights to Tehran – places both greatly impacted – flights to places like New York City, I’m sure Australia as well.
That’s the – that’s not the nature of what good governments do. What governments who are trying to protect and defend and secure do is they would alert the world. They would bring in the world’s best experts to help them resolve the problem. They would make sure that the entire world had access to the virus samples, access to the laboratories, all the things that would be needed to keep people safe, and they chose not to do that and created enormous risk.
And you talk about other activities that were going on. It’s also the case that during that same time, the Chinese Communist Party was behaving in ways that protected the people there in China.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, in your superb speech here in Sydney last year, you quipped that you can sell you soul for a pile of soybeans. The Victoria Labor state government in Australia is in the middle of signing up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative to the tune of potentially billions of dollars despite our federal government’s security concerns. The equivalent, I guess, would be if New York signed up to Belt and Road.
Two things: As our most important ally, what concerns does this raise for the U.S. and Five Eyes about Australia? And what specific dangers and threats are the Victoria Labor Party exposing Victorians to?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, let me take the second one first. Look, every nation has its own sovereign right to make decisions for itself, and I suppose Victoria has some rights that it can undertake.
But every citizen of Australia should know that every one of those Belt and Road projects needs to be looked at incredibly closely. It’s the case that some of them may just be straight up commercial transactions, could be that that’s the case. If so, fine, but nearly each one of them has some cost to it. There’s often money loaned at concessional rates or conditions placed in the debt documents or government concessions that have to be made to the Chinese Communist Party in order to get those Belt and Road Initiative projects built. Those present real risk – real risk to the people in that region, real risk to your country – and frankly, they build up the capacity of the Chinese Communist Party to do harm in other ways as well.
Second, as it relates to the United States and how we think about this, we’re doing the right thing to defend and keep America safe and work alongside great partners like Australia to do so. But we will not take any risk to our telecommunications infrastructure, any risk to the national security elements of what we need to do with our Five Eyes partners. We’re going to protect and preserve the security of those institutions.
So I don’t know the nature of those projects precisely, but to the extent they have an adverse impact on our ability to protect telecommunications from our private citizens or security networks for our defense and intelligence communities, we will simply disconnect. We will simply separate. We’re going to preserve trusted networks for important information. We hope our friends and partners and allies across the world, especially our Five Eyes partners like Australia, will do the same.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, President Donald Trump – I love his tweets; they’re brilliant, great sense of humor – he has tweeted about some wacko in China blaming everyone other than China for the virus. What can you, sir, tell us about the origins of COVID-19?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so this is what authoritarian regimes do. They execute broad-based strategic disinformation campaigns to deflect attention from their own failures. They do that so that the world won’t see them, but they also do that to maintain power inside their own country so that their own people will continue to be subservient to the Communist party itself. So disinformation campaigns like this – we’ve now seen ones, campaigns where they’re trying to blame the United States, Europe. I’m sure they’ve blamed Australia somewhere along the way as well.
Here’s what we know: This virus originated in Wuhan, China, and the Chinese Communist Party has rigorously prevented the entire world from knowing the precise origins – who patient zero was, where they traveled, what actually happened inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, how did this begin, how did this have a – the first human-to-human transmission. All of these things, the world needs to know. I – Prime Minister Morrison has been fantastic in calling for an inquiry into this. The hundred-plus nations supported that. The United States is fully on board too. We need to know how this happened.
And I want to remind everyone watching this: It’s not for political purposes alone that we need to know this. We certainly need to know how the Chinese Communist Party behaved, but we still have real questions about this virus. It’s still taking lives all across the world. It’s still inflicting enormous economic harm all across the globe. We still have unanswered questions. Our best experts need access to this so they can understand the wellsprings, precisely where this began, and begin to resolve this problem. And then second, we need to make sure that there have been elements put in place to prevent the next pandemic or the next 10 pandemics from emanating inside of China.
So a real risk from these laboratories, if they’re not managed properly. And the world has the right to make sure that those laboratories that the Chinese Communist Party is operating inside of its country with highly contagious pathogens, in the place from where this virus emanated in Wuhan, are understood in a way that prevents something like this from ever happening again to the world.
QUESTION: Absolutely. Secretary Pompeo, the Chinese call us a “giant kangaroo that serves as a dog of the U.S.” They think that’s an insult; we’re actually proud to be your ally. And thank you so much for your support of Australia. Thanks for coming on Outsiders.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You’re most welcome. We enjoy and get great benefit from and love the partnership we have with Australia as well. Thanks for having me on today.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.