US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s hypocritical and aggressive stance against China will make life harder for the Singapore government, which is trying to maintain harmonious ties with both superpowers.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan have said Singapore does not want to choose between the US and China, but Mr Pompeo is making it more difficult for them.
Mr Pompeo is probably the most hostile US Secretary of State against China since Mr John Foster Dulles, who refused to shake hands with Premier Zhou Enlai at a conference in Geneva in 1954. Like Mr Dulles, Mr Pompeo’s attempts to contain China on the international stage will ultimately fail.
Mr Pompeo has been scolding China in speeches and social media just about every day. Recently, he has repeatedly condemned the Chinese government and announced sanctions against Chinese entities for Beijing’s imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong. He has also pronounced a tougher US policy against China over the South China Sea.
On July 13, he tweeted: “We are strengthening US policy on South China Sea maritime claims, according to international law, in rejection of Beijing’s intimidation, bullying, and claims of maritime empire.”
Mr Pompeo has been trying to recruit various countries to ally with the US against China.
The US announced on July 13 a change in its policy on the legal recognition of the boundaries and control inside the South China Sea to support the Vietnamese, the Malaysians, the Indonesians, the Philippines, Mr Pompeo told the Economic Club of New York on June 15.
He tweeted on July 15: “The political ideals and traditions of the United States played a major role in the drafting of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which serves as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations (UN) on Dec 10, 1948.
Ironically, on July 10, Mr Pompeo tweeted: “We reject the UN Special Rapporteur’s spurious report on targeted killings through armed drones in the case of Iranian General Quassem Soleimani. The United States has been transparent regarding the international law basis for the strike and will always act to protect America.”
It is double standards that he would reject a UN complaint while expressing support for the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and condemning China for implementing the national security law in Hong Kong.
The Chinese government and the Hong Kong government have stressed the national security law, which took effect on June 30, would target only a small minority of people in Hong Kong. How can Mr Pompeo condemn the Chinese government for the national security law while arguing US forces were right to kill an Iranian general to protect the US?
In 2013, the CIA publicly admitted it was behind a coup that deposed the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mr Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953.
On July 15, Mr Pompeo urged the UN Security Council to renew the UN arms embargo on Tehran due to expire on Oct 18, as China and Iran discuss a potential partnership. Given what the CIA did to democracy in Iran in 1953, Mr Pompeo’s tenure as Director of CIA from January 2017 to April 2018 may arouse international suspicions of him.
Mr Pompeo’s efforts to enlist countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to side with the US against China recalls similar efforts during the 1950s by Mr Dulles, whose attitude was, if a nation was not for the US it was against the US.
At the recommendation of Mr Dulles, the US boycotted the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, which was attended by 29 nations including China, India, the Philippines and Thailand. The final communique of the Bandung Conference included the point that no member nation should join any defence arrangement of any superpower. The Bandung Conference led to the establishment in 1961 of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of over 100 countries which were not formally aligned with the US or any other superpower.
Like the Bandung Conference in 1955, Asean nations today generally prefer not to totally align with any superpower. Mr Harry Roque, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, told reporters on July 14: “The great powers, as they escalate their rivalry, will woo us into their side. But we will advance our own national interest.”
Besides Asean, some European countries are not wholeheartedly siding with the US against China. On July 13, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said China’s imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong is no reason for the European Union (EU) to sever dialogue with China. French President Emmanuel Macron said on June 14 he would work to build a Europe that was less dependent on China and the US, according to media reports.
Current European attitudes towards China mirror some European countries’ stance towards the country during the Cold War. In 1964, French President Charles de Gaulle recognised China against the wishes of the US.
As with Mr Dulles, the reluctance of various countries to totally side with the US against China will frustrate Mr Pompeo’s efforts to build a comprehensive bloc to contain China.
In the short term, the probability of Singapore leaders inviting Mr Pompeo and Chinese leaders to the same event is low. Should that happen, the Singapore leaders will have a tricky task like a host who organises a family reunion for relatives who are not on speaking terms with each other.
Toh Han Shih is a Singaporean writer in Hong Kong. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.