BANGKOK–U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Aug. 2 decried “decades of bad behavior” from China that have hampered free trade, laying out a case at a Southeast Asian forum for Washington’s escalating trade war with Beijing.
Pompeo’s statements came after President Donald Trump on Thursday announced he would slap a 10 percent tariff on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports starting Sept. 1, abruptly ending a truce in year-long trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.
“China’s problems are homegrown, but President Trump’s confrontation of China’s unfair trade practices has helped shine a light on them,” Pompeo said in his speech to business executives and others in the Thai capital, where he is attending a wider meeting of Southeast Asian nations with world powers. “We’d like our trade matters resolved as quickly as possible. All we want is for China to compete on a level playing field with everyone else. This will benefit not only us, but you, and the global trading system, too.”
“We want free and fair trade, not trade that undermines competition,” Pompeo said.
U.S. criticism of China has been a running theme at the Bangkok forum.
“For decades, China has taken advantage of trade … It’s time for that to stop. President Trump said we’re gonna fix this. And to fix it requires determination, and that’s what you saw this morning,” Pompeo said on Friday.
Asked about the global economic disruption resulting from the U.S.-China row, Pompeo responded: “There have been negative implications from decades of bad behavior from China.”
The proposed new tariffs on Chinese goods could further disrupt global supply chains. U.S. and Chinese negotiators ended a brief round of trade talks in Shanghai on Wednesday with little sign of progress and agreed to meet again in September.
Pompeo—who had assured Southeast Asian partners a day earlier that Washington would not force them to choose sides between the United States and China—used his speech on Friday to portray U.S. investment as a more benign option.
“Our investments don’t serve a government, and our investment here don’t serve a political party, or frankly a country’s imperial ambitions,” he said.
“We don’t fund bridges to close gaps of loyalty,” he said, adding later: “Ask yourself this, who really encourages self-sufficiency and not dependence, investors who are working to meet your consumers’ needs, or those who entrap you in debt?”
His comments appeared to be a jab at China’s mammoth ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR, also known as Belt and Road) initiative, which is aimed at boosting economic and trade ties and building a modern version of the Silk Road to link China with Asia, Europe and beyond through large-scale infrastructure projects.
It has, however, run into opposition in some countries over fears that opaque financing arrangements lead to unsustainable debt and that it is more about promoting Chinese influence than bringing development.
Pompeo and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi at first struck a conciliatory tone when they met face-to-face in Bangkok on Thursday for the first time this year.
However, Pompeo soon renewed criticism, referring to Chinese “coercion” of neighbors in maritime confrontations in the disputed South China Sea and said Beijing’s upstream dam-building on the Mekong River was harming countries in Southeast Asia that depend on the waterway.
Pompeo urged countries in the region to shun China until it reforms its practices and cited ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as an example of how authoritarian rule can threaten economies. “The current unrest in Hong Kong clearly shows that the will and the voice of the governed will always be heard,” he said.
He said the United States has a long tradition of supporting people’s rights to free speech and peaceful protest and that those freedoms enhanced prosperity and development.
By Patpicha Tanakasempipat. The Associated Press contributed to this report.