Former Secretary Pompeo visits Tech campus

Former Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, sits down with Tech President Ángel Cabrera to have a discussion after Pompeo delivered an on-campus speech on Dec. 9, 2020. // Photo courtesy of Ron Przysucha, State Department

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a press conference at Tech’s campus on Dec. 9. The event came in the midst of a tumultuous campaign season, with control of the Senate dependent upon Georgia run-off elections that occurred on Jan. 5.

The fact that Secretary Pompeo picked Tech to host the event had been the subject of controversy, with former Secretary Pompeo brushing off accusations of political bearings as distractive from choosing Tech.

While selecting Tech had caused an uproar, the decision was by no means the first controversial selection by Pompeo, who broke long-standing tradition by opting to speak at the Republican national convention this past summer.

Former Secretary Pompeo began his remarks with a stern warning focused on Chinese influence on United States campuses.

In particular, he focused on the University of Washington, accusing the school of refusing to assist Vera Zhou, a student detained in China in 2017.

Pompeo then extended the accusation to American campuses as a whole, accusing them of suppression due to a fear of Chinese government retaliation.

In addition, he focused on Confucius institutes, noting the Confucius institute at Wesleyan college, the only one still in operation in Georgia.

Both Emory and Georgia State closed their respective institutes earlier in 2020.

These statements furthered a long-held argument by the Trump administration, namely, that the institutes serve to enhance the image of China to college students. The Chinese government has refuted this idea, arguing that the institutes serve simply to educate American college students in Chinese history and culture.

Pompeo’s speech followed a trend in U.S.-China relations that largely began with the former President Trump’s 2016 campaign.

While bilateral relations between the two countries had deteriorated in the preceding years, exchanges between the two global powers recently reached a level of tension not seen since the United States first opened to China in 1972.

Following Pompeo’s speech was an exchange with President Ángel Cabrera. Cabrera started off the conversation asking how Tech, a school that benefits greatly from foreign students, could focus on attracting Chinese talent while protecting against Chinese government manipulation.

Pompeo argued that the balance had been completely wrong, focusing too much on openness instead of a rigorous process for Chinese student acceptance.

Although he was careful to note he appreciated the contributions of the foreign students, his call ultimately focused on a fundamental shift to a more selective acceptance of Chinese students.

Cabrera then noted that he himself had been an exchange student.

He stated that he originally came to the United States as a Fulbright scholar and wanted to know how the United States could continue to make foreign talent feel wanted.

Former Secretary Pompeo argued that his proposals had already made foreign exchange students feel welcome in his speech, insisting that the protection offered in the United States would continue to attract foreign talent.

The conversation then moved towards the role of science and technology in foreign policy.

The Trump administration had long argued that Chinese businesses experience an advantage from state-sponsorship, an issue that has played a key role in multiple trade disputes.

Former Secretary Pompeo’s discussion followed a similar pattern. First noting the differences in entrepreneurs in the United States and China, Pompeo pointed to government funding as an unfair advantage to Chinese businesses, allowing them to sell at prices lower than that of their American counterparts.

Huawei, a Chinese cellular company that has been a point of contention between the United States and China, was a serious focus in former Secretary Pompeo’s answer.

Defending the Trump administration’s push to block the company, Pompeo argued that the company’s price advantage stemmed from government sponsorship.

Noting that the majority of United States allies had banned the company, he touted the administration’s policy of pushing for such actions as an administrative success story.

Towards the end of the discussion, Cabrera asked if former Secretary Pompeo thought the policies for which he was advocating would be implemented in the future.

Secretary Pompeo was careful not to indirectly acknowledge the November election results in his answer, and said the challenge was bipartisan and would be faced by whichever administration was in office in the upcoming years.

The speech by former Secretary Pompeo was one of the last policy discussions made by the secretary while in office.