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China, North Korea Blast Secretary of State Pompeo: He Has ‘Lost His Mind’

Mike Pompeo speaking at the 2012 CPAC in Washington, D.C.
Mike Pompeo speaking at the 2012 CPAC in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

“The U.S. has long been treating Latin America as its backyard, where it would resort to willful use of pressure, threat or even subversion. People can tell right from wrong.”

Last Sunday, China’s ambassador to Chile said U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo had “lost his mind” after Pompeo blamed China for the crisis in Venezuela, and on Thursday, North Korea state media said the country wants Pompeo removed from future nuclear talks.

North Korea’s statement came a day after the country tested a new tactical guided weapon – the country’s first weapons demonstration since Kim Jong-Un’s summit with President Trump in February.

“I am afraid that, if Pompeo engages in the talks again, the table will be lousy once again and the talks will become entangled,” North Korean state media said, quoting Kim Jong Gun of the foreign ministry.

Pompeo Criticized China’s Involvement in Venezuela

Secretary Pompeo served as the Trump administration’s CIA Director before being appointed Secretary of State after former secretary Rex Tillerson’s ouster. Pompeo has been described as brash by some, such as Foreign Policy’s Ned Price, who wrote, “Pompeo made a name for himself in Congress as a leading purveyor of hard-line conservative ideology and even conspiracy theories.”

Others describe Pompeo as a tempering force reining in the president’s isolationist tendencies: “As Trump tries to execute some hairpin policy turns, often by tweet, it is Pompeo who travels the world to clean up the wreckage.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time building an understanding of what President Trump’s mission statement is. And therefore, what my mission statement is,” Pompeo told the Times’ Mattathias Schwartz.

The Secretary has projected President Trump’s hardline views on issues like China, Venezuela and Iran, as well as serving as chief negotiator in earlier nuclear talks with North Korea.

When speaking in Santiago, Chile, Pompeo criticized China’s involvement in Venezuela, saying:

“China’s bankrolling of the Maduro regime helped precipitate and prolong the crisis in that country, I think there’s a lesson … to be learned for all of us: China and others are being hypocritical calling for non-intervention in Venezuela’s affairs. Their own financial interventions have helped destroy that country.”

China Is Venezuela’s Most Substantial Creditor

China is Venezuela’s biggest creditor, estimated to have provided up to $62 billion in loans to the country.

Pompeo proceeded to warn his audience: “when China does business in places like Latin America, it often injects corrosive capital into the economic bloodstream, giving life to corruption and eroding good governance.” He used a dam construction project in Ecuador to illustrate, which was funded by $19 billion in Chinese loans but has been plagued by rampant charges of corruption and dangerous working conditions. Nearly every Ecuadoran official involved in the project has been imprisoned or sentenced for bribery.

Ecuador’s outstanding debt to China is largely being paid off in oil, the country’s most valuable export. The debt has also resulted in severe cuts to social spending, and many economists expect the country to fall into recession.

“China in exchange received 80% of Ecuador’s oil at a discount and then resold that oil to make a profit. This does not seem like a reliable partner to me. I am confident this does not seem like a reliable partner to you, either,” Secretary Pompeo argued.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang responded angrily to Pompeo’s statements:

“The U.S. has long been treating Latin America as its backyard, where it would resort to willful use of pressure, threat or even subversion. People can tell right from wrong. I am sure Latin American countries are fully capable of telling a true friend from a false one who is ignoring rules and spreading chaos.”

The U.S. has a long history of intervention in Latin American affairs. In Chile, where Secretary Pompeo was speaking, the U.S. helped overthrow a democratically elected leader, Salvador Allende, and installed a murderous dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in 1973.

Pompeo’s comments reflect concern among U.S. officials about China’s growing influence in Latin America, encroaching on the U.S.’s historic influence in the region.

When Washington Post journalist John Hudson asked if U.S. sanctions were exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela in a Twitter exchange, Secretary Pompeo responded by ridiculing the “incredible lack of understanding,” of the journalist, and said “you shouldn’t ask questions like that.”

In the past, economic sanctions have hurt populations more than regimes, and many analysts have expressed concern regarding the humanitarian consequences of the situation in Venezuela. Former U.N. reporter Alfred de Zayas says sanctions on Venezuela are “killing citizens,” and compared the economic strategy of the U.S. to a “medieval siege.”

Trump Administration Enacts More Venezuela Sanctions

The Trump administration imposed its newest round of Venezuela sanctions Wednesday, which Reuters reports the Maduro regime is evading by funneling oil sales through Russia. Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin will be meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un later this month. The meeting was announced shortly after Pyongyang’s disparaging remarks on U.S. Secretary Pompeo were released.

Comments from Chinese officials saying Secretary Pompeo has “lost his mind” are similar to comments from North Korea describing him as “reckless.” Mattathias Schwartz, who wrote a profile on the secretary, concluded, “for a senior official who is the face of United States foreign policy, the threshold for triggering his temper is unusually low.”

According to BBC’s Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker, Kim Jong-Un’s recent weapons test was not a direct challenge to President Trump, but “it could be designed to provoke some thought in the White House and warn them of what could follow if a deal isn’t done soon.” With Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guiadó’s push to topple Maduro’s government stalling, and progress on North Korea nuclear program uncertain, Secretary Pompeo will face serious challenges in the coming months.


Featured Image: Mike Pompeo speaking at the 2012 CPAC in Washington, D.C.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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