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Pompeo and new wave of McCarthyism in America

By Chen Weihua | | Updated: 2020-09-04 09:40
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Luo Jie/China Daily

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is notorious for his extreme anti-China rhetoric, from his daily maniac tweets and virulent speeches, in particular the one at the Nixon Library in California on July 23, to his slandering of China on almost every foreign trip.

His recent remarks on the Confucius Institutes and Chinese students in the United States are the latest proof of his evil fear-mongering and attempts to revive McCarthyism.

In an interview with Lou Dobbs on Fox Business on Tuesday, Pompeo said he hoped all the Confucius Institutes in the US would shut down by the end of the year. Last month, his State Department designated the Confucius Institute as China's "foreign mission" in a move intended to discredit the institution, which is not much different from Alliance Française, Goethe-Institut and Instituto Cervantes, funded fully or partly by the governments of France, Germany and Spain to promote French, German and Spanish languages and cultures.

Pompeo also told Dobbs that US President Donald Trump was seriously considering imposing stricter restrictions on Chinese students in the US, a group the US president last November said was welcome.

Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn, Republican senators from Arkansas and Tennessee respectively, introduced a bill in late May calling for a ban on all visas admitting Chinese nationals to the US for graduate or postgraduate studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In April, Cotton infamously said: "If Chinese students want to come here and study Shakespeare and the Federalist Papers, that's what they need to learn from America; they don't need to learn quantum computing and artificial intelligence from America."

He did not say why anyone should study Shakespeare in the US rather than in the bard's native country, the United Kingdom. I guess some Chinese students are studying Shakespeare or the Federalist Papers in US schools, but that seems practical as a selective course, rather than a major. Otherwise Cotton might complain of too much Chinese influence in Broadway or political circles.

Pompeo and Cotton have made a U-turn from the previous US administration, when former president Barack Obama, former vice-president Joe Biden, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and her successor John Kerry welcomed the Confucius Institutes and Chinese students as an important part of people-to-people exchanges.

Politicians like Pompeo and Cotton are scared of such exchanges, which cultivate an informed public that can nail their lies about China. The latest US moves, to put it bluntly, are akin to the racist 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which lasted 60 years. The US House of Representative and Senate both have apologized for this heinous part of American history, although a US president is yet to do so.

Sadly, history is repeating itself. William Burns, former US deputy secretary of state, denounced Pompeo's new McCarthyism in a Foreign Affairs article last October. He recalled the persecution conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s against people such as John Paton Davies, Jr, a top China hand in the State Department.

Burns, a career diplomat under five US presidents and 10 secretaries of state from both parties, sighed that applicants to join the Foreign Service have declined precipitously, with fewer people taking the entrance exam in 2019 in more than two decades, and the pace of resignations by career professionals is depressing.

I could feel what McCarthyism was like when in 2009 I interviewed Lynne Joiner and reviewed her book Honorable Survivor: Mao's China, McCarthy's America and the Persecution of John S. Service, another US diplomat and prominent China hand.

Like McCarthyism in the 1950s, the tragedy today is that too many people have been either fooled or intimidated by McCarthyite politicians like Pompeo. That's the case not just in the US, but also in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.

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