Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is slated to meet with Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Hawaii Wednesday as tensions escalate between China and the US.
The meeting had been kept under wraps by the State Department until Wednesday morning, but CNN reported on Sunday that the top US diplomat was expected to meet Chinese officials this week at Hickam Air Force Base to discuss a wide range of issues.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry was similarly tight-lipped about the meeting in Honolulu.
Although the State Department has not disclosed what specific items are on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, it takes place as relations between Washington and Beijing have plummeted. It also comes on the heels of renewed aggression by North Korea and a deadly clash at the border between China and India.
Pompeo has led Trump administration officials in denouncing the Chinese government for a lack of transparency and disinformation campaign on the coronavirus outbreak. Officials have indicated the administration intends to punish Beijing over the spread of the pandemic.
President Donald Trump announced a slew of retaliatory measures against China in late May, slamming China for imposing a controversial national security law on Hong Kong that undermines its autonomy. He said the US would no longer grant special status to Hong Kong, and would also take action to block “certain foreign nationals from China” from entering the US and sanction officials in China and Hong Kong for role in “smothering” Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Amid its rhetorical barbs, the Trump administration has also sought to bring China to the negotiating table for nuclear arms control talks, which are slated to take place next week in Vienna between the US and Russia. Chinese officials have repeatedly rebuffed efforts to get them to participate in a trilateral arms control agreement.
Pompeo has increasingly painted the rift between the two nations in terms of a clash of antithetical ideals and has accused China of attempting to undermine democracy abroad.
“They have 1.4 billion people, and they are beginning to move into places like Africa, and they’re running influence operations here even in our United States, with the effort to undermine the democratic values, the freedom-loving values that places like the United States and places like Europe have,” Pompeo said in a recent interview with Christian radio show “Family Talk with James Dobson.”
“And so if you ask me the question, does the Chinese Communist Party have every intention of taking away those central ideas that our founding fathers bestowed upon us, I think the answer is almost certainly yes,” Pompeo said.
China’s government-controlled media has attacked Pompeo as “evil,” “insane” and an “enemy of mankind.”
As Beijing has sought to take advantage of unrest over racial injustice and crackdowns on protesters and journalists in the US, Pompeo lashed out at the suggestion that the US had ceded the moral high ground to China.
“There is no equivalence between our two forms of government. We have the rule of law; China does not. We have free speech and embrace peaceful protest. They don’t. We defend religious freedom; as I just noted, China continues its decades-long war on faith,” he said at a press briefing last week. “The contrast couldn’t be more clear: During the best of times, China ruthlessly imposes communism. And amidst the most difficult challenges the United States faces, we work to secure freedom for all.”
CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Nicole Gaouette, Maegan Vazquez, Steven Jiang and Nectar Gan contributed to this report.