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As US-China relations tumble, Beijing unleashes fury at one target: Pompeo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, shown during an April appearance in Washington, has drawn unusually harsh rebukes recently from the Chinese government and media.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, shown during an April appearance in Washington, has drawn unusually harsh rebukes recently from the Chinese government and media. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/File/AFP/Getty Images

BEIJING — He spouts ‘‘lies and fallacies,’’ according to a Chinese government spokesman. “A cheerleader of hatred,’’ a Communist Party newspaper seethed.

He has ‘‘lost his mind,’’ a Chinese ambassador suggested in April.

As US-China relations scrape along their lowest level in decades, one US official has stood out as the most popular target of Beijing’s slings and arrows: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

China this week singled out Pompeo in a remarkable, extended segment during the state broadcaster’s evening newscast. The top American diplomat, whom state media recently likened to a gangster, didn’t merit a human comparison Wednesday night.

‘‘The world needs to be vigilant against the erosion to human peace caused by Pompeo, which is like that of a worm,’’ an anchor told hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers. ‘‘The entire diplomatic world ought to despise and suppress his conduct.’’


In some ways, Pompeo’s frequent criticism of China touches on well-worn sore spots for Beijing, such as human rights abuses against minority Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region, its trade practices, and allegations of espionage. But the depth of China’s scorn underlines the new, global dimensions of the US-China rivalry.

In touring the world urging other countries to ban Chinese company Huawei, for instance, Pompeo embodies the prospect that irks and unnerves China the most: being encircled by the US and allies in a new Cold War.

Asked for a response to the attacks on Pompeo, a State Department spokesman said: ‘‘We will not comment on ad hominem Chinese Communist Party propaganda.’’

A senior administration official said Pompeo has been advocating the position of the US government at large.

‘‘Pushing back against Chinese bad behavior was at the heart of President Trump’s campaign and remains at the center of his national security strategy,’’ the official said. ‘‘These are substantive issues that the United States is raising, from debt diplomacy to trade to the systematic subjugation of Muslims.’’


This week, while US and Chinese officials were preparing for a meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Japan, Pompeo was in New Delhi coaxing the Indians to do more in the South China Sea against a mutual rival, China. In April, after Pompeo blamed China for the crisis in Venezuela on a swing through Latin America, the Chinese envoy to Chile told a newspaper Pompeo had gone mad.

In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang asked Pompeo to ‘‘take a break.’’

‘‘For quite some time, certain US politicians have been touring the globe with the same script in their pockets to smear China, starting fires, and fanning the flames and sowing discords,’’ Lu told reporters.

Given his public-facing position, Pompeo has attracted Beijing’s ire more readily than China hawks who work behind the scenes such as economic adviser Peter Navarro or national security adviser John Bolton. Even President Trump gets a relative pass in the state media compared with Pompeo, who is described more as an ideologue and gets pilloried on a weekly if not daily basis.

Vice President Mike Pence is also viewed warily, Chinese foreign policy experts say, after he delivered a tough speech in October that stunned many in Beijing, who compared it to Winston Churchill’s 1946 ‘‘Iron Curtain’’ address.

The Chinese say that after Beijing and Washington navigated their bilateral relationship on practical grounds for decades, officials such as Pompeo now represent an ideological turn in the United States that fundamentally opposes the Communist Party’s governance.


‘‘Mike Pompeo, along with Vice President Mike Pence, are no doubt the two US politicians that China hates the most at the moment,’’ said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University. ‘‘Pompeo cemented his ‘China-hater’ status by making a series of imperious and hard-line criticism of China from our Xinjiang and Hong Kong policies to the Tiananmen protests in 1989. Worse still, he attempted to use all those aspects to attack China’s political system.’’

Amid intensely personal pieces aimed his direction this week, the Global Times newspaper referred to Pompeo’s tenure as the head of the C.I.A., mused on the prospect of his running for political office, and suggested he was enriching himself through ties with the defense industry — all to build a portrait of a ‘‘malicious poisoner of global diplomacy.’’

The paper weighed the legacy of American diplomats such as Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger. Pompeo should be considered more extreme in his opposition to China than the original ‘‘Cold War knight,’’ his Eisenhower-era predecessor John Foster Dulles, it concluded.

Zhu Feng, a prominent scholar at Nanjing University whose long-term US visa was revoked as he left Los Angeles recently, said the unusually pitched criticism reflected a broad ‘‘nervousness’’ in China — from the government in Beijing to the business world down to ordinary Chinese — about the US government’s shifting posture toward China.


‘‘In the US, Pompeo has been actively promoting hard-line China policies; on the international arena, he is also trying to fan hostility against Beijing as the trade war is turning into a bigger-scale tech war and a battle for global leadership,’’ Zhu said. ‘‘This, of course, has touched quite a few nerves in China.’’