BANGKOK — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday hit out at China for predatory trade practices and human rights abuses that harm economic development.
"For decades, China has taken advantage of trade," Pompeo said. "It's time for that to stop."
A day after President Donald Trump intensified pressure on China to reach a trade deal by announcing the imposition of new U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, Pompeo told an audience in Bangkok that Asian nations are best served by private American, rather than "state-led," investment. Such investment is often orchestrated by Beijing for political purposes, he said, calling "trade and freedom" the keys to development.
"Our investments don't serve a government, or a political party, or a country's imperial ambitions," he told the Siam Society. "We're not building roads to pave over your national sovereignty. We don't fund bridges to close gaps of loyalty."
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.
Trump on Thursday said he would impose 10% tariffs as of Sept. 1 on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese imports he hasn't already taxed. The move immediately sent stock prices sinking. He had already imposed 25% tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese products, and Beijing retaliated by taxing $110 billion in U.S. goods.
Chinese state councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, with whom Pompeo met on Thursday on the sidelines of an Asian security forum they are both attending, denounced the tariffs in comments to reporters. "Putting 10% tariffs on China's imports is not a constructive way and it's not a right way to solve the trade disputes," he said.
Pompeo, however, placed the blame for the situation squarely on Beijing.
"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. "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."
China's economy is entering a "new normal of slower growth" that should serve as a warning to countries that may either try to emulate it or accept its investment, Pompeo said.
On Hong Kong, which Trump has said is primarily a matter for China, Pompeo demurred when asked if the U.S. would intervene in the event that China sends in troops to quell pro-democracy protests.
"I'm not tipping our hand to what we will or won't do," he said, adding that U.S. officials have "asked China simply to do the right thing."
Pompeo said the U.S. has a long tradition of supporting people's rights to free speech and peaceful protest and that those freedoms enhanced prosperity and development.