Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged US universities to scrutinise China’s assistance and students, warning that Beijing was set on stealing innovation.
The outgoing top US diplomat, known for his hawkish views on China, made the speech on a visit to Georgia, a state with a growing Asian-American community and which next month holds two elections that will determine which party controls the Senate.
Pompeo said that the United States should welcome Chinese who “genuinely” want to study in the country but pointed to two cases of Chinese students who were charged with spying and other examples of Beijing harassing its students abroad.
“If we don’t educate ourselves, if we’re not honest about what’s taking place, we’ll get schooled by Beijing,” Pompeo said in a speech at Georgia Tech.
“The Chinese Communist Party knows it can never match our innovation,” Pompeo said. “That’s why it sends 400,000 students a year to the United States of America.”
He renewed calls for US universities to close all Confucius Institutes, the Beijing-funded institutions that offer Chinese-language instruction but are careful to toe to Beijing’s line on politically sensitive topics.
“We need administrators to close Confucius Institutes and investigate what so-called student groups backed by the CCP money are actually up to on their campuses,” Pompeo said.
“We cannot allow this tyrannical regime to steal our stuff, to build their military might, brainwash our people or buy off our institutions to help them cover up these activities.”
In language sure to be welcomed by his Republican Party’s right wing, Pompeo alleged that China has made inroads on left-leaning universities as they are “rife with anti-Americanism.”
He criticized several universities by name including the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, saying he had hoped to deliver his remarks there but was told by its president, Rafael Reif, that his comments “might insult their ethnic Chinese students and professors.”
MIT denied his account, saying it was contacted in August about being the venue for the speech by Pompeo and was “honored to be considered.”
Reif told him that MIT was restricting gatherings to a maximum of 10 people to protect public health during the Covid-19 pandemic and conveyed his “deep regrets.”
“MIT turned down a number of other high-level guests for the same reasons,” it said in a statement.
Pompeo has described China as a central threat to the world and declared that President Donald Trump has turned the page on decades of US engagement with Beijing that have failed.
President-elect Joe Biden has broadly agreed on the challenge from Beijing but has taken a less bellicose tone, with his aides seeing areas of cooperation such as fighting pandemics and climate change.