QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, welcome. You’re in Australia for the AUSMIN talks, the annual talks with defense and foreign affairs ministers here in Australia. They happen annually, as I said. On your way here, you were part of the trilateral dialogue – Australia, the United States, and Japan. You made some really strong comments about your return to the region, renewed focus in our region. Today you reiterated that the U.S. is a Pacific power and you’re here to stay. In practical terms, what does that mean?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s great to be with you. Thanks for having me on. It means exactly what I said. There’s a long history of Australia and the United States and our partners in the region working together. We’re making a real commitment. President Trump understands the challenges that are presented, the opportunities that there are here in the Pacific. We have enormous trading relationships throughout the region. America is the largest single investor in Australia; that’s important, it matters to us. And we want to make sure that our commitment is permanent and deep. That’s why I’ve traveled – this is I think my third trip this year to the region – and each time we develop deeper, stronger relationships and we put resources where our countries together can work to not only make sure that we are secure and that we keep our respective peoples safe, but that we grow our economies so that our people can continue to do what they want to do to take care of their families and their friends.
QUESTION: Some issues on the table pertain to or originate in China in particular. I’ll get to that in a moment. But one of the big global issues is Iran. It was for discussion today. The Australian Government has made some comments after your meetings that it’s seriously considering joining an international coalition in relation to securing shipping lanes. What would you like to see from Australia in terms of what level of assistance, what type of assistance, if we were to join? And what are your goals?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, has demonstrated its willingness to pull commercial vessels from the sea. It put mines on six ships. It pulled a British vessel from the waters – still holding that ship. And we just think that’s wrong and needs to be protected against, and the best way to do that is deterrence, to create stability. So what we’ve asked 60-plus nations to do is provide assistance in securing and deterring – securing from and – excuse me, deterring from and securing the Strait of Hormuz so that commercial vessels can travel through there. And so Australia could join in a number of ways. It’s a highly capable, sophisticated military. There are many assets it could deploy. We want to make sure we have a comprehensive program so that Iran won’t do something that will either (a) risk that there’ll be a kinetic conflict, which is something the United States certainly doesn’t want, but second, that we protect the Australian economy and the Japanese economy and the South Korean economy, who each depend on goods being able to flow through that strait.
QUESTION: Your relationship with the United Kingdom is famously called the Special Relationship. Today you termed the relationship with Australia as the unbreakable alliance. I listened carefully to questions that occurred after the speech you gave in Sydney, where you made some comments about perhaps a change of focus – your missile program, deployments that could perhaps occur in nation-states of friendly allies like Australia. Would we be a country that you would want to have missiles based here with, obviously, the agreement of the Australian Government? You’ve got capacity now in Darwin; those promises have been kept in relation to that deployment. Is missiles the next step?
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s right, we committed to put 2,500 Marines in Darwin. We’ve now made good on that commitment. With respect to other tools – not just missile systems but the way we collectively defend our two nations and, frankly, the region as well – I think it’s something we constantly evaluate. What – the comments that have been reported in the press are mostly related to the fact that the United States did what was obvious. We withdrew from a treaty we had with Russia that were just two parties that chose not to comply, so we will now do the things we need to do to create stability and peace. And as we do that, we will evaluate whether there are certain systems, certain missile systems that make sense to put in certain countries. These will be long, consultative processes as we work our way through them. But we – we’ll never hesitate, if we think it’s in the strategic interest of the United States of America and the strategic interest of an ally, to engage in a deployment, an operation for freedom of navigation or the deployment of certain systems. We’ll never hesitate to talk to them about it and share why we think this is important for that country to protect its own people, and then do our best to partner with them to deliver on the things we jointly agree make sense.
QUESTION: Let’s turn to China. In May you gave the Thatcher Lecture in London and I want to quote something that struck me. You said that, “In China, we face a new kind of challenge. It’s an authoritarian regime that’s integrated economically into the West in ways [that] the Soviet Union never was.” Do you think we in the West – and Australia has a huge economic relationship, as you know, with China. Do you think we in the West took the windfall gains of China’s growth and perhaps didn’t look beyond the dollar or beyond the yuan, where that displacement might go in terms of our national security framework? Do we get bought off by China?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think there’s a risk of many countries, having seen dollar signs and economic opportunity, and didn’t adequately evaluate the security risk that came alongside of that. I’d put the United States in that same place. For an awful long time we were asleep at the switch while China engaged in trade practices which stole tens and hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. economic property, that engaged in forced property transfer where American businesses had to give our technology to China just to open up that market. Those are things that went on for an awfully long time. President Trump has said no more and is doing his level best to restructure that set of trading rules for the United States so that they are fair and reciprocal. And so I think every nation has an obligation to make sure that – we want economic growth, that is a necessity – but we can never take that deal to the exclusion of making sure that we protect our citizens.
QUESTION: I think it’s a mistake to see the U.S.-China trade debate as an economic issue alone. You’ve made comments here and overseas again today where you said there’s a whole comprehensive strategy deployed by China that is much bigger than just a trade skirmish. How important is it that nations in the region wake up to this, and are they waking up? You’ve just come back from Bangkok, and I saw some signs out of various communiques that the neighborhood is alive to what’s happening.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I think that’s true. I think it’s taken a number of us ringing the alarm bells for them to see it. And sometimes it takes a little bit of time. When a country shows up and hands you a bagful of money, that seems simple and straightforward and you don’t realize the cost associated with that until, frankly, you’re too far in, when you’ve accepted the debt that comes alongside of that, and now China has not just economic control but the capacity to impose their political and military goals upon you. It comes back to this: It comes back to a values set. The reason I’m here in Australia today is because we’re two democracies that have these deep and abiding, overlapping values. And so we want to make sure that it is those values – free and open trade, property rights, the liberal order that we all have come to value and benefit from – we want to make sure those are the rules by which the next century is governed as well. And so it will take a concerted effort on the part of many countries to make sure that that’s the case, and I know we’ve got a great partner in Australia to make that more likely.
QUESTION: Last question before we go. You’ve got one of the toughest jobs in the world – in the world. What keeps you – and you’ve got a background coming out of intelligence as the CIA director, so you have seen and read things that most ordinary people will never see in their lifetime. What keeps you awake at night and what do you see are the opportunities?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the opportunities for expanding democracy and freedom and creating a peaceful, stable world are legion, and this is what we work on every day. In terms of risks, the world still faces an enormous risk of nuclear proliferation. And so whether you see the work we’re trying to do on North Korea to get them to denuclearize or work to ensure that the Islamic Republic of Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapons system, those are things that threaten a large number of peoples and can create enormous risk at any one moment in time. So those are certainly a priority.
The second thing that has truly come to life in the last decade is the threat from cyberwarfare as well. It’s cheap. It’s easy. It’s no longer just nation-states that can engage in it, so you can have armed groups, terrorist groups engage in cyberwarfare as well, which can do – inflict enormous economic damage on democracies. And so we all need to make sure that we harden our systems, protect ourselves, keep our eyes wide open so that – people talk about election interference; that definitely matters. We’ve got to get that right. But to make sure that our commercial interests are protected in such ways that no cyber campaign can ever take down a large swath of the economy as well.
QUESTION: You not only – I know you’ve got to go but I’m going to push my luck. Do you think of going into elected office again? Will we see you in elected office again?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m so focused on making sure at the time I perform my job well for President Trump, it’s hard to know what life will bring next.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, thank you very much for your time today.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, ma’am.