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Why Secretary Of State Pompeo's Latest Trip To Asia Was Remarkable In 2 Ways


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been in Asia for the last few days. He's spent several hours in Pyongyang with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un. They talked about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and scheduling a second meeting with President Trump. Pompeo called it a good trip. Then he was in Beijing today, and that visit was notably not as good. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had some sharp words for Pompeo about the state of U.S.-China relations. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Beijing, and he joins us now. Hey, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey there, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what exactly was said in front of reporters? What were these remarks that were so critical of the U.S. from China?

KUHN: Well, Wang Yi really started out on a pretty harsh note, saying that the U.S. had constantly escalated trade tensions with China. It had harmed China's interests in regards to Taiwan, and it had made a lot of baseless accusations against China's foreign and domestic policies. Wang Yi noted that Pompeo had come to brief them about his trip to North Korea and to seek China's cooperation. And he said, this is exactly why we should be cooperating and not confronting each other.

CHANG: Did Pompeo respond to any of these criticisms in front of reporters?

KUHN: Well, he said the U.S. and China were in fundamental disagreement on Wang's points. And I think what came out through this was that China feels that the U.S. is just launching an all-out sort of cold war on every front. And I think this has something to do with the speech that Vice President Mike Pence gave last week...

CHANG: Where he accused China of malign efforts to undermine President Trump in the upcoming elections.

KUHN: Yeah, that was just one of the things. I mean, really it was just across the board, from stealing American intellectual property to human rights, the treatment of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang. It was really confrontational and very little talk of cooperation.

CHANG: Why would Chinese officials take such offense at Mike Pence's speech if the vast majority of what he was saying substantively is stuff the U.S. has long been saying about China? Was it the particular tone Pence took? Or is it the timing - that right now, you know, Pompeo's trying to keep good relations still with China when it comes to North Korea, and this was just an inconvenient speech to be giving while Pompeo was making this trip?

KUHN: You know, this has been building up. Earlier this year, we had a national security strategy, an official document which basically name China as one of the main threats facing the U.S. So that's part of the attitude. You know, I think it's really just China feels that this marks a shift away from cooperation and towards confrontation, this depiction of China as really a rogue regime and one of the top threats to U.S. security that has to be dealt with harshly. I really think that's the tone that China is reacting to. And I think it will be reacting to it. I think that's going to be sinking in for quite a while.

CHANG: Now, under previous administrations, officials have been reluctant to push Beijing too hard on trade or other issues the U.S. has been critical of when it comes to China because of this idea that it needs China's help when it comes to North Korea. So could President Trump's tough stance with China hurt the U.S.'s ability to reach a deal with North Korea?

KUHN: Well, certainly that's the implication of what happened today. Of course, we're seeing a confluence of factors. It's not just the North Korea issue that the U.S. needs China's help on. It's so many issues of global importance. But the U.S. seems to want to put competition with China in front of cooperation on these global issues.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Anthony Kuhn. Thank you very much, Anthony.

KUHN: You're welcome, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.