U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Remarks to the Press
Press Briefing Room
May 20, 2020
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone. This morning, early, I had the chance to drive through Arlington Cemetery, and as we approach Memorial Day Weekend, I want to reflect on the sacrifices of our uniformed military who have given their lives in the cause of freedom.
As Secretary of State and an Army veteran, I spend all my days working to use American diplomatic power to secure freedom without putting our servicemembers in harm’s way.
And I want to recognize and thank the families who have lost loved ones in service to our country for their sacrifices, too, from Lexington to Leyte Gulf, from Valley Forge to the Ia Drang Valley, and on all the other fields of battle. I hope every American will reflect on the exceptional nation for which these warriors fought and died so that we can live and enjoy the fruits of this great country.
I want to begin today with a few observations on China, because the media’s focus on the current pandemic risks missing the bigger picture of the challenge that’s presented by the Chinese Communist Party. First, basic facts. China’s been ruled by a brutal, authoritarian regime, a communist regime since 1949.
For several decades, we thought the regime would become more like us through trade, scientific exchanges, diplomatic outreach, letting them in the WTO as a developing nation. That didn’t happen.
We greatly underestimated the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations. The whole world is waking up to that fact.
Pew reported – I think it was this past week – that 66% of Americans have an unfavorable view of China.
That is a result of the Chinese Communist Party’s choices, which are influenced by the nature of the regime. And the nature of that regime is not new.
Second point on the bigger picture: The Chinese Communist Party’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan have accelerated our more realistic understanding of communist China.
The Party chose to destroy live virus samples instead of sharing them or asking us to help secure them.
The People’s Liberation Army has claimed more features in the South China Sea’s international waters, sank a Vietnamese fishing boat, threatened a Malaysian energy prospector, and declared a unilateral fishing ban. The United States condemns these unlawful acts.
The Chinese Communist Party chose to threaten Australia with economic retribution for the simple act of asking for an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus. It’s not right.
We stand with Australia and the more than 120 nations now who have taken up the American call for an inquiry into the origins of the virus, so we can understand what went wrong and save lives now, and in the future.
The Chinese Communist Party also chose to pressure the World Health Organization’s director-general into excluding Taiwan from this week’s World Health Assembly in Geneva.
I understand that Dr. Tedros’s unusually close ties to Beijing started long before this current pandemic, and that’s deeply troubling.
President Xi claimed this week that China has acted “with openness, transparency, and responsibility.” I wish it were so. It’s been 142 days since doctors at Wuhan Central Hospital first started sharing information about a SARS-like virus.
And yet, today, as we all sit here this morning, Beijing continues to deny investigators access to relevant facilities, to withhold live virus samples, to censor discussion of the pandemic within China, and much, much more. If the Chinese Communist Party wants to demonstrate real openness, real transparency, it could easily hold press conferences, like this very press conference, and allow reporters to ask him anything that they would like.
Third: China’s contributions to fighting the pandemic are paltry compared to the cost that they have imposed on the world.
This plague has cost roughly 90,000 American lives. More than 36 million Americans have lost their job since March. Globally, 300,000 lives– could be as much as around $9 trillion, according to our estimates, the cost imposition on the world by the Chinese Communist Party’s failures.
The United States has responded with about $10 billion to benefit the international response – everything from vaccine research to funding for preparedness efforts and humanitarian aid. That’s compared to a promise of $2 billion from the Chinese. I look forward to seeing them fulfill that $2 billion commitment.
Private American businesses, too – nonprofits, charities, citizens have provided an additional $4.3 billion from American donations to assist the world. There is no country that remotely rivals what the United States has done to help combat this terrible virus.
And today, I am pleased to announce another $162 million in foreign assistance, bringing our total commitments disbursed to more than $1 billion since the outbreak began. And that’s just what the State Department and USAID have done.
In addition to that funding, today the State Department and USAID, and the Inter-American Foundation are providing more than 200 million in assistance for Venezuelans in need as well.
This is what we do all around the world. We will help the world recover from this pandemic.
Turning for a moment to Taiwan: I want to say congratulations to President Tsai on her inauguration. The democratic process in Taiwan has matured into a model for the world. Despite great pressure from the outside, Taiwan has demonstrated the wisdom of giving people a voice and a choice.
In Hong Kong, our decision on whether or not to certify Hong Kong as having “a high degree of autonomy” from China is still pending. We’re closely watching what’s going on there.
This week pro-democracy legislators were man-handled while trying to stop a procedural irregularity by pro-Beijing legislators. Leading Hong Kong activists like Martin Lee and Jimmy Lai were hauled into court. Actions like these make it more difficult to assess that Hong Kong remains highly autonomous from mainland China.
We’re also keeping a close eye on human rights, as we always do – pandemic or no pandemic.
I was pleased that France arrested this weekend Felicien Kabuga, who is alleged to have played a key role in the Rwandan genocide.
We’re monitoring Burundi, as voters there go to the polls today. I urge all sides to refrain from provocations and allow there to be an election with no violence, to let every citizen have the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights.
Nicaragua, too – we’re concerned about numerous credible reports of hospitals filling up and bodies being buried under cover of night, pointing to a much more severe situation than the regime is actually acknowledging.
And we’re concerned that individuals around the world, individuals including journalists, have been arrested and detained based on their public statements or activities regarding COVID-19. The United States condemns all such uses of the pandemic around the world as a pretext for repression.
Onto better news: Last week saw three diplomatic wins. I’d like to highlight them:
First, last week the United States shipped its first-ever crude oil to Belarus. I traveled there a few months back, made the commitment that we would work on this project with them so they would be less dependent on crude oil from those who see the world a little bit differently. This deal will allow Belarus to diversify its supplies to go forward and take crude oil from free nations. We’re the largest producer of oil and gas in the world. If nations want enhanced energy security and deals crafted with respect for property rights and free enterprise and the rule of law, come talk to us. We’ll get it done with you.
Second, in Afghanistan, the United States welcomes the political settlement by President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah. We urge the two leaders to channel momentum generated by this positive outcome to speed up the government’s entry into intra-Afghan negotiations. We need all sides, including the Taliban, to do their part to get into talks. We need violence reduced. We’re working hard to meet the critical objective of getting peace and reconciliation inside of Afghanistan.
Third, I’m really proud of the team here at the State Department and the Commerce Department who worked hard to help bring in the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation’s new $12 billion investment for a new state-of-the art chip foundry to Arizona. Microchips integral to all our national security will be made in America again.
That deal was a piece of and an integral part of a string of accomplishments that we call the “5G National Security Trifecta,” something we’ve been working on for some time.
Last week, the United States closed a loophole Huawei had used to circumvent export controls by designing and producing semiconductors abroad.
And third, the third part of the trifecta is something I have mentioned before: the 5G Clean Path. 5G data transiting American diplomatic facilities must only transit through trusted equipment.
I had a good conversation with Secretary Esper this week on the importance of making sure our military bases participate in the 5G path initiative as well.
I want to update you on our maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran, too. Tomorrow marks 24 months, two years, since I launched the campaign to get Iran to behave like a normal nation. We continue to follow through on that commitment.
On June 8th, our designation of Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines goes into effect. Last week, the U.S. Government provided the maritime and energy industries new guidance to reduce their risk of exposure to sanctionable activities related to Iran, as well as those regarding North Korea and Syria. The world’s maritime community has warned – doing business with these vessels risks severe consequences.
Our maximum pressure campaign also entails demanding that the regime in Tehran treat its own people with respect and dignity. Today, the United States announces that it is imposing sanctions on 12 Iranian individuals and entities under human rights authorities. One of those sanctioned is the current Minister of Interior for Iran, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli.
We have reason to believe he is the individual who gave orders in November 2019 authorizing Iranian police forces to use lethal force on peaceful protesters inside of Iran. His evil commands killed Iranian citizens. We’re proud to mete out what justice we can on behalf of the slain and silenced inside of Iran.
And finally, we have just marked the sad anniversary of six years since Paul Overby’s disappearance in Afghanistan. Our colleagues at the FBI have renewed their $1 million offer for information leading to his return, and my team continues to press towards that goal through diplomatic channels as well. The well-being of American citizens comes first to this President, to this administration.
And with that, I’m happy to take a few questions.