QUESTION: Joining me now is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Washington Watch.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, it’s great to be with you today.
QUESTION: I know you just got back in from off the road traveling. I appreciate you joining us this afternoon. But I’m going to ask you a very plain, straightforward question: Where did this virus come from that over 50,000 Americans have contracted, in the last count, about 700 had died from?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Tony, this virus began in Wuhan, China. There’s no doubt about where it began. Indeed, the Chinese Communist Party itself acknowledged that that’s where the virus began. And unfortunately, the Chinese Communist Party covered this up and delayed its response in a way that has truly put thousands of lives at risk.
QUESTION: Yeah, the timeline on this quite clear that they sat on this for over a month, and even then continued to deny that there was human-to-human transmittal of this disease, saying it all came from animals. And in the meantime, this thing began to spread literally around the globe.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Tony, your viewers or listeners who are paying attention know full well every day, every week matters in terms of how this information is transmitted around the world. That is, when you share this information, the best scientists around the world can begin to work on it. You can start all the processes, not only vaccines and things that mitigate, but you can begin to put in place the things that will cause the spread to be decreased.
And it’s multiplicative, and so every day that the Chinese Communist Party sat on this information and didn’t do the right thing, and instead punished doctors who were attempting to alert the world about what was taking place there in Wuhan, increased the number of people who would be exposed, and thereby put all of us all around the world – and the Chinese people as well – put them at unnecessary risk, too.
QUESTION: Well – and you may not want to go here, but I certainly want to make this statement, because the World Health Organization really played cover-up for China, basically going along with the Chinese line, and that was troubling to me. This is an organization that’s supposed to be looking out for the global health, but yet they were buying the line that China was feeding, the cover-up and misinformation.
SECRETARY POMPEO: When we go back and look at this, we will, I think, all find out who was transparent, who was straightforward in the course of this moving forward. We can see – and you referred to this earlier – the cover-up effort continues; the disinformation campaign from Russia and Iran as well as China continues. They’re talking about it coming from the U.S. Army and they’re saying maybe it began in Italy, all things to deflect responsibility.
And while the time will come for recriminations, we’ve got to work our way forward. But the world needs to understand what’s really going on, because it’s still important. It’s still important to have transparency even today. This is an ongoing global crisis, and we need to make sure that every country today is being transparent sharing what’s really going on, so that the global community, the global health care, infectious disease community can begin to work on this in a holistic way.
My concern is that this cover-up, this disinformation that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in, is still denying the world the information it needs so that we can prevent further cases or something like this from recurring again.
QUESTION: Well yeah, exactly. When you look at what could happen in the future when there is distrust because of this misinformation and the cover-up, I mean, this is going to cause people to be reluctant to believe what information they’re getting, so this does have implications for a future health crisis that the world may face.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s absolutely true. It’s, frankly, what today concerns me the most is making sure that we still have a full understanding and that all the information is out there and available for the world’s best scientists.
The importance of transparency to human health and the global instability that is created when you have a Chinese Communist Party behaving in the way that it did is really a risky thing. And we can all see that now; we can see it coming into play. The State Department is working now to get people out from all across the world who have had airline and transportation plans disrupted. It’s caused an enormous challenge for Americans and for people all across the world.
QUESTION: And had we had information earlier, we could have moved earlier on this and potentially saved a lot of Americans from being stranded around the world and possibly the impact that has come to our economy, had we been able to act earlier on a full set of facts that they sat on.
SECRETARY POMPEO: There is no doubt about that. Look, I’m proud of what our State Department team is doing. This was a crisis in transportation that we’ve not seen.
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re now – we’ve now got charter flights and military flights that we’re getting ready to bring people back. I am deeply aware we’ve got folks stranded in Peru and another dozen-plus countries around the world.
I want everyone to know that we’re working night and day to get the right resources in place to get them home just as quickly and safely as we can. It’s a mess with airports closed and bus lines and travel closed in many of these countries, even lockdowns in some of them. This was an enormous problem. We’re working to get everybody back just as quickly as we can.
QUESTION: And I can vouch for both of that, that I’m getting calls from people who are stranded and I’m getting responses back from the State Department that are working to get Americans back home. It is a crisis; the State Department is working it very systematically.
I want to go to another layer of the concern about why these cover-ups, why this disinformation matters. Because when we look at Iran, we look at China, this disinformation in large part is being disseminated for their own people. They’re trying to turn their people against America because they know that their grip on their – their reign over – the regime – over their people is very tentative, and they want to try to shift the focus and anger toward America away from themselves.
SECRETARY POMPEO: In each of these places, Tony, the people most harmed by the absence of transparency and good governance are the people of their own country. The people most harmed by Chinese disinformation, the fact that they covered this up early, were the people of Wuhan and Hubei, China.
Similarly, today in Iran, the people who are most harmed by Iran’s failure to acknowledge the problem and to accept the fact that they – fact that they allowed Chinese flights to continue to come into the country from Tehran when they knew they shouldn’t have, but they didn’t want to upset their Chinese friends, the people most harmed by that are their own people.
I think the people in those countries know this. I think the people in those countries will ultimately hold their leaders responsible for this. And I think this, too, is why this disinformation campaign is taking place. They want to try and deflect responsibility from the poor decisions that those leaders undertook.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we were already locked in kind of some really tense negotiations with China. We had gotten through one round of the economic negotiations with the trade agreement, but a lot of issues there with religious freedom, what they’re doing to the Uighur Muslims. We’re now finding out more about these forced labor camps and all this stuff happening.
But is this one of those instances – I mean, it’s affected the entire world – that this could literally reset the relationships between the United States and China and all these global parts that come together when we look at the geopolitical landscape of the world?
SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump, from the beginning of our administration, made clear that the trade relationship with China was fundamentally unfair, it wasn’t reciprocal. I think you can see that some of the supply chain challenges that we’ve had are a result of the fact that companies were operating their supply chains out of China but not here in the United States. I think that’s part and parcel of the reciprocity that the President demanded.
So I do think as we wind our way out of the coronavirus issue, as we wind our way through this, I think we’ll have to make some very important decisions about exactly how these relationships ought to be structured.
We want the Chinese people to be successful. We – I am saddened by all of the deaths that took place in China. These are tragic things. We don’t mean ill towards any of them. But it’s fundamentally the case that we have to make sure that we do right by the American people, that we get this relationship not only with China but with every country right, so that we can ensure that we do right to protect and keep safe the American people the way President Trump committed to do.
QUESTION: Well, there’s also – it’s important to draw the line of distinction between the Chinese Communist party, that regime, and the Chinese people. The same thing in Iran. It is – the people are not being represented by their governments in the way that most of them would like to see their international relationships.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, I think you nailed it. As I said, the people most harmed by this failure in leadership during this difficult time are the people of their own countries. It has now spread across to the world. But transparency and good governance, and the fundamental things that we do here in the United States that says we’re going to treat every human being with the dignity and respect that they deserve because of the fact that they are God-made, those are things that fundamentally separate us from regimes like that in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Chinese Communist Party.
And it’s why when we move our way through this, and we do so successfully as I know we will, the people all around the world will see that it is our system, a republic where we have freedom and liberty and we know that our rights come from our creator, these are the systems that will ultimately prove to be most effective at delivering good outcomes for every human being.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, before you go, I just want to say this. I don’t know how much news coverage has gotten – have been given to the stranded Americans which your department, State Department, has helped to get back home, but I know on behalf of the families they’re grateful that the State Department has been working around the clock to get those Americans back home. So my thanks to you for the work that you and your team have done.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Tony. We’re going to stay at it till we get ‘em all.
QUESTION: All right. Take care, Mr. Secretary. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, sir. So long.