"Swiss citizens never settle for second best"
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns the people of Switzerland of grave security threat of Chinese companies such as Huawei. The “Chinese Communist party will know every piece of information that flows across those Chinese networks.” Asked about the Iranian people’s freedom movement, the Secretary tells DIE WELTWOCHE: “I am very confident that the entire world will behave differently than it did in 2009” when the “Green Movement” was crushed by Iranian security forces. Wrapping up a three-day extensive visit to Switzerland, Pompeo is strongly advocating a Free Trade Agreement with the Alpine republic. He calls it “a priority” and is “convinced” that the outcome “will benefit the both countries.”
Before his departure for a state banquet with Queen Elizabeth and President Donald Trump at Buckingham Palace, the Secretary of State takes an appraising look at the Swiss Alpine panorama as he sits down with DIE WELTWOCHE. With the snowcapped peaks glistening in the distance, Mike Pompeo is upbeat. He is enjoying his stay in Switzerland whose ties with the US he calls “deep, strong, and growing.” The restless globe trotter has spent three full days in the Alpine republic, the longest any US Secretary of State ever visited.
But his sojourn comes with a message of caution. Pompeo firmly warns Swiss citizens of the security risks associated with China’s economic activities. “When Swiss citizen put their information into a network that has Huawei technology ...it is guaranteed that their information is in the hands of the Chinese government.” According to the Secretary, there is no privacy with Chinese companies. “That should concern them (Swiss citizen) that the Chinese Communist party will know every piece of information that flows across those Chinese networks.”
A strong supporter of a Free Trade Agreement with Switzerland, Pompeo says, “We will keep working within both governments to make sure that it is a priority and we can get the outcome that will benefit the both countries. I am convinced we will.” Switzerland is the seventh largest investor in the US creating more than half a million high wage jobs.
Pompeo visited all three cultural regions – German, French, Italian - of the Switzerland and met his counterpart, Swiss Foreign Secretary Ignazio Cassis, for a bilateral meeting in Ticino. The extended visit was organized and guided by US Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Edward T. McMullen. The successful PR entrepreneur is a close friend of President Trump. As such, the Swiss government has had unprecedented access to high-level US officials, including President Trump who met with the Swiss president in the Oval Office a few weeks ago.
Visit in Berne, Switzerland. Mike Pompeo (center) US Ambassador Edward T. McMullen / copyright: facebook.com
Mr. Secretary, China has gained an extensive presence in Europe and in Switzerland. Yesterday, at the press conference [in Bellinzona], you said: “We encourage our Swiss friends and partners to recognize the security risk associated with many of China’s economic activities.” Many Swiss don’t feel that threat. They feel caught between the China and the US trade war. For a better understanding for the Swiss people, could you give a precise example of that threat and what risks Switzerland is running into?
Well, I can point to a number of threats that have occurred around the world where China has showed up with money and has ended up owning. Right. So, they would loan a country money, wait until it falls into a place that it can’t repay it and then claims the assets. And this wasn’t accidental. This wasn’t coincidental. This was with great intention. They use their private sector interactions in ways that aren’t about what we do in the West, the way the Swiss companies operate. When a Swiss company comes to the US, they compete. They build a business. They grow their employee base. They build up their company. They are not using it so that Swiss can one day have political influence inside the United States. That’s the risk that is presented to Swiss citizens.
When the Chinese show up, the separation between their private sector and the government is not the same as we have here. So, if you do business with a Chinese company, you should consider yourself as doing business with the Chinese government.
So, for example we talked a lot about Huawei. There are three members of the Chinese Communist party that sit on the board of directors of Huawei. So, when Swiss citizens put their information into a network that has Huawei technology – I hear Swiss people talk about privacy, they value their privacy – they are handing…
So, it is not guaranteed, the privacy?
No, it is not guaranteed, it is guaranteed that their information is in the hands of the Chinese government. And that should trouble Swiss citizens. That should concern them that the Chinese Communist party will know every piece of information that flows across those Chinese networks. Or, at least, they have capacity to know. I think when the Swiss people begin to learn this, I think, when the story is told, the Swiss people will come to understand these risks. And Swiss citizens never settle for second best. You have always been willing to say, you know, there is a little premium there. Costs a little bit more than the other system, but we want security. We want privacy. We want quality. I think when the Swiss people come to understand these risks, they will make the right decision.
On Iran, you repeatedly said that the root of the problem is not the people of Iran but clergy government. You even called it the regime. I witnessed in 2009 the “Green Movement,” and I saw how it was crushed down by the security forces. The people were hopeful at that time. They hoped for America. They hoped for Obama. They were let down, and people said to me personally, “We are disappointed.” Mr. Secretary, will your government be helpful to people in Iran when they stand up against their own government?
I am very confident that the entire world will behave differently than it did in 2009. Europe, too, walked away from the Iranian people. I agree the United States did, as well. We didn’t even provide the moral support let alone any other kind of assistance. We didn’t say that we are supportive of a freedom of democracy, of the right to speak out, of the ability to execute your religious life in the way you want. We didn’t stand up for those core values, core values that the United States and the European countries value too. I am confident that the world has seen that and knows its duty.
The burden of world will be to support freedom and democracy in Iran just as we do in other parts of the world. So, I am very hopeful.
Will your government be supportive?
We always support freedom, democracy, for those who are speaking out. The ability to speak, to exercise conscience — we always support that.
We in Europe face similar problems as you do in the US: Migration, border security. You had a ten year high in illegal immigration on your southern border. Do you agree that Mexico is an “abuser” of the United States? [as President called it in his tweet on Sunday.]
We have to stop the illegal influx of illegal traffic that is moving through Mexico. Today, it is largely Guatemalan, Honduran, El Salvador coming from the northern triangle. Mexico has to work alongside us to staunch that flow.
Now, what specific steps are you expecting Mexico to take that the tariffs do not go into effect? [President Trump said that the first round of tariffs would begin on June 10 at 5% "on all goods imported from Mexico." He warned tariffs could continuously rise and reach a permanent level of 25% by October.]
So, I will speak with the Foreign Minister Ebrard on Wednesday this week and we will talk about just that.
Nothing yet for our readers?
Yesterday, the Washington Post published an audio [of a closed-door meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations] where you said that the Middle East peace plan is not gaining any traction.
That is not what I said.
What did you say?
I was speaking to the group, walking them through what we know as a complex, difficult negotiation. We have an important vision for how we think this should move forward. The administration has been working on it. Mr. Kushner and Mr. [former lawyer Jason] Greenblatt have been leading the charge. But, what I was talking about was we know this will be difficult. There is a reason this has not been solved yet. But we are determined. We think that we got an idea, set a plan that the whole world will see as a basis for a serious conversation between Israeli and Palestinian people. And we intend to move forward with that.
Why is the Secretary of State not at the helm of this peace process? Why is it Jared Kushner?
Yeah, because President Trump wanted it to be that way.
To Switzerland, I am so happy that you are here, personally, and I am sure so is the overwhelming majority of Swiss people. I understand you are a strong supporter of the Swiss – American relationships, and you wrote an impressive letter to [US Trade Representative] Ambassador Lighthizer encouraging a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). After having spent three days in Switzerland – a very long time for a US Secretary of State - is the importance of an FTA the primary message that you take home?
Yes. There are several. I am not sure I’d rank them, necessarily. There are several important conversations that we had during the course of these past days. But we can see that these are countries that share our values, right? This is how we began our conversation with China. We have an idea of the rule of law that is the same. We have a common understanding of how nations compete. And, so, we want to grow our relationships with countries that share our values. We will have differences of opinion. We will have disagreements between Switzerland and the United States. But this is a nation with which we want to have deep, strong and growing economic relationships.
And how will you, personally, further engage in this relationship and push forward this FTA? Because you have already done so much.
Yeah, we will keep working at it. Look, we will keep working within both governments to make sure that it is a priority and we can get the outcome that will benefit the both countries. I am convinced we will.
A question on your recent meeting with Russian President Putin. When you looked into his eyes, did you see his soul like President Bush famously did?
And if you did, what did you see?
We had a good conversation. It was constructive. It is a country with a value set that is different from ours. So, we are often going to have conversations that are fraught with difficulty and disagreement, and this was no exemption. But the tone was good, the desire to improve the relationship was very good, and I appreciate that not only with President Putin, but also with foreign minister Lavrov, as well. There were a handful of places that we work closely together in counterterrorism. We are working together in Afghanistan. I hope in Syria we can work with them, as well. So, we find places where we have shared interests. But it is very different than we are working with a country like Switzerland.
One question about the South China Sea. The Chinese Government regards it (largely) as their territory, the 9 Dash Line. What is your government’s plan to address the People's Republic of China flagrant disregard for international law?
It won’t be just the United States. We need every nation that values freedom — the capacity to move, goods through shipping channels in Asia — to join us. We develop what we called our “Indo Pacific Strategy.” It is an effort to rise the costs for China, to continue the actions that were taking place over the decade before we came into the office. I think we have been pretty successful at that. And we work with nations in South East Asia. We work with nations in Asia to make clear to the Chinese government that it is not acceptable to deny the free flow of traffic, the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Will you still fly, sail and steam into these areas which are international waters?
What about the threat, the bulling activities? What is the US about to do about those activities?
The United States and our partners will continue and show that there is freedom of navigation throughout the spaces that China is claiming. We have seen the international rulings. We want every nation to comply with the law.
Your point about the Swiss citizens — they should recognize this Chinese threat, as well. You said that the Swiss citizens don’t appreciate the risk from China. Here is a good example that you just gave me: China’s bullying attempting to close down these important sea lines — sea lines which are critical to people that working here in Bern, real jobs, making real goods, transiting these places have to have the capacity to be free and flowing. And the United States and our partners are going to make sure this is the case even as China continues to attempt its expansion.
Last question: You graduated first in your class from the United States Military Academy at West Point. You were a successful businessman. And now you are traveling around the world and get to know it very intimately. You are very fit for an even higher office. Have you ever considered, will you consider to run for president of the United States?
I only consider it when people like you ask questions like this.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
It was wonderful to meet you, too.
*Roman Zeller contributed to this interview.