China poses a strategic challenge to the US, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said on Friday, as top American Senators flagged concern over Beijing’s assertive behaviour in both the strategic and trade domain.
Pompeo, 54, made the remarks during his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If confirmed, he would replace Rex Tillerson, who was fired by US President Donald Trump last month, to lead the State Department.
“China certainly presents a strategic challenge to the United States of America,” the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief told members of the Senate.
Noting that the Chinese are using “mostly economic tools”, Pompeo said the US needs to be prepared to respond across each of those fronts so that it can find the right ground, the right place where it can cooperate with China, where it makes sense for America and in those places where it does not, it can confront them and make sure that it is America’s vision — a democratic vision that continues to provide strength and resources for the world.
Pompeo was responding to a question from Senator Marco Rubio, who expressed concern over “assertive Chinese behaviour” in the region.
“They (Chinese) have most certainly not embraced democracy. They’ve actually gotten more autocratic and they have embraced the definition of a world economic order that basically means ‘we will take all the benefits of global trade and global economics’. But we do not intend to live by any of its obligations,” he said.
Rubio said that he personally believes that it was a terrible mistake that leaders in both parties have made. “Now as part of their strategy you see China doing things like trying to create strategic depth in Eurasia,” he said.
“Their efforts to establish all these different programmes, the belt and road initiative, Silk Road Maritime, Silk Road, they’re just efforts – they’re not just efforts to create new overland trade corridors, they’re efforts to basically make these nations economically, politically and eventually militarily dependent on and vulnerable to China,” Rubio said.
“And their maritime borders in the South and East China Sea that they feel vulnerable and insecure. They see American allies in Japan, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, and so what they’re working on now is fracturing our economic and defence alliances in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.
That is why the Chinese are investing billions of dollars in building up their Navy and their Air Force to be able to establish air and sea denial to the US military and ultimately make the argument that don’t count on America’s defence and/or economic partnership because it is just paper, they can’t live up to it anymore, Rubio said.
Senator Robert Menendez said an “emboldened” China is “asserting itself” in the South China Sea militarily and economically “right here in the Western Hemisphere”.