As the United States is seen as "decoupling" from China, will this policy change represent a permanent and long-term movement in U.S. decision-making or is it something that could change next year or in a future U.S. administration?
Hours before the U.S. presidential election, a senior U.S. official said “the ball is in China’s court” whether or not the U.S.-China “decoupling” is becoming a permanent element in the U.S. policy.
Miles Yu is U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s principal China policy and planning adviser who is helping reshape U.S. policy toward China.
In an exclusive interview with VOA Monday, Yu said while U.S.-China “decoupling” has never been a “stated policy,” “decoupling is happening.” Yu told VOA State Department Correspondent Nike Ching that how China responds to this “measured approach” would determine U.S. decision-making in the coming years.
Yu told VOA “pretty soon” the United States will have a final verdict on whether to officially label the Chinese Communist Party’s suppression against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang as “genocide.”
Seen as one of Pompeo’s most influential advisers on U.S. policy toward China, Yu said “mutual trust between Washington and Beijing has been seriously damaged” because the CCP has not lived up to its international commitment in Hong Kong, causing the United States to reevaluate the overall validity of “One country, two systems.”
When asked what the U.S. would do to deter a potential Chinese invasion in Taiwan, Yu told VOA the United States “resolutely oppose(s) any unilateral use of arms or force to settle the disputes between the two sides.”
Yu said while he will not speculate “a hypothetical question,” it can be assured that a U.S. response will be “resolute.”
Pompeo had praised Yu as “a central part of my team advising me with respect on how to ensure that we protect Americans and secure our freedoms in the face of challenges from the [Chinese Communist Party].”
“I'm very proud of my Chinese heritage. I'm very proud of the fact that I love the Chinese people and I have many Chinese friends. My roots are there,” and "I have received tremendous support from people of Chinese descent inside and out of China for what I do and what I say," Yu told VOA.
The following are excerpts from VOA's interview with Miles Yu. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: The U.S.-China relationship is seen at its worst in decades as Washington is taking a very tough stand on China. Many see the United States is decoupling with China. Do you think this represents a permanent and long-term movement in U.S. policy, or is this something that could change next year or in a future U.S. administration?
Yu: Well, first of all, thank you for giving me the opportunity for the interview.
Decoupling has never been a U.S.’s stated policy, but decoupling is happening. And the reason for this is entirely China's fault. That’s because China has behaved in such a way that it makes it impossible for a healthy, bilateral relationship to proceed as it should be, because the Trump administration is responding to the reality. It’s not because we artificially hype the tensions — we have changed our mode of operation from merely managing a flawed relationship to face a reality. And that is what Secretary Pompeo has said repeatedly: we can no longer ignore the political and ideological differences of these two models of governance represented respectively by China and the United States.
And because of that, we have adopted a new approach to handling the relationship not just to manage it, but also to change the term of discourse to one of reciprocity and goal-oriented approach. So because of that, and I think you know well, China has refused to respond in a very positive and constructive way, and that's basically the reason why there are tensions.
To your question whether this is going to be a permanent feature of the bilateral relationship, I hope not. The key really lies in how China responds to this measured approach we have adopted. And I think any reasonable country would accept that this is the right approach. We treat China just as we treat anybody else. China is no exception. China cannot expect the United States to say nothing when China locks up 1 million Uighurs in the concentration camps. China should not expect us to do nothing when our trade imbalance was enormous. And China should also expect something from us: from now on, if there are spies stealing our industrial and defense secrets, we're going to take appropriate actions.
So all of this depends on China. The ball is in China’s court.
VOA: In the near future, what more actions on China could be expected? Will there be more foreign missions designations, more sanctions, more closures of consulates, etc.?
Yu: Well, I think we know any responsible government in a democracy, its first and foremost responsibility is to protect its national interests, to make sure that its people and its key infrastructure are safe. So for that purpose, we have designated a number of PRC entities in the United States operating freely in a free and democratic environment as foreign missions. And we'll continue to do that. We are not going to tell you the exact specifics of what we are going to do in the near future. But that's the guideline. And I think you know, the Chinese government's operations in the United States are comprehensive. And their government-controlled agents and organizations in a free and democratic society like ours have been very, very rampant. So we're going to take appropriate actions. As you have seen, it’s not just at State Department, it's a whole-of-government approach: Our Department of Justice, our FBI, our Department of Homeland Security, we all take joint actions to reach the same goals: that is, to protect American democracy and to protect the American people.
VOA: The next question is the elephant in the room. If I may ask: China has some very harsh words on you, calling you a traitor, even launching a personal attack against you. Have you become a scapegoat? Would you like to comment?
Yu: Well, normally I would not like to comment on something that's beneath my comment, I think this is a tactic that China has adopted in a very conventional way: that is, to change the narrative of the controversy. They normally ignore the fundamental causes of major events in the deterioration of U.S.-China relationship. As Secretary Pompeo said, really, it's [caused by] the fundamental, political and ideological differences of these two countries. And instead, they try to assign blame to one or two particular individuals.
This is just the nature of the regime. To designate its enemies as the ultimate cause of something much bigger than the individuals themselves.
Secondly, one of the major contributions of this administration to the U.S.-China relationship is our renewed understanding that the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people are not the same thing. And that is something the Chinese government (is) really, sort of panicky about. And for this, they blame me and a few other individuals for making this contribution. And it's just silly.
Since the Chinese government increased attacks on myself, I have received enormous support from people of Chinese descent inside and outside of China, mostly from inside China in various ways, and just to give me enormous assurance that what we're doing here in the U.S. is right.
The Chinese government cannot really tolerate the idea that itself is very isolated. It's isolated from not only the international environment and international community, but also isolated from its own people. So that's why their attacks on individuals like US secretary of State and myself are very ferocious — and very desperate in a way. So that's my response.
VOA: Indeed, there is a distinction between the Chinese people and CCP. But there is also a perception among Chinese Americans that the China bashing is alienating the Chinese diaspora in the U.S. For example, prohibiting WeChat is criticized as banning the primary communication tool with their families in China. What is your response?
Yu: WeChat is not a bad software. WeChat is not the best software. The reason WeChat is such a powerful tool, such a powerful software is because the Chinese Communist Party has banned all other competitors. So you only have WeChat and a few others left. They've been totally controlled by the Chinese communist government. So the real culprit for this dilemma, or all of this inconvenience caused by this restriction on WeChat, is really the Chinese Communist Party itself. So that's why I say, WeChat itself — the technology is OK but the political control exerted by the Chinese Communist Party is absolutely dangerous to the national security of the United States.
So it's a dilemma. But I think it's a dilemma that the only solution to this lies in Beijing, not in Washington.
VOA: On Uighurs. Is the U.S. government close in labeling China’s suppression on Uighurs as genocide? What’s the thinking behind such a designation?
Yu: Designating an atrocity or a genocide must reach several criteria. One of which obviously is a legal criteria. And I think if we look at all the evidence we have gathered, and the whole world has witnessed, to designate the PRC atrocities in Xinjiang as a genocide is worth considering. And the process has a logic and timeline of its own. So I'm not going to make a specific comment on that, but you will see our position pretty soon.
VOA: Just to follow up: [when you said] pretty soon, could that mean in the coming months?
Yu: Well, you'll see.
VOA: On Hong Kong. The Beijing and Hong Kong governments do not appear to change their course in implementing the national security law after several U.S. actions and sanctions, what is the end game for the U.S.?
Yu: Well, Hong Kong is a tragedy, and it's a tragedy not only for the Chinese people and the people of Hong Kong, but also a tragedy for the world because the world has held a tremendous hope for China for the past decades. As a matter of fact, since 1984, when China solemnly promised a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong — backed by a whole set of international principles, including the rule of law, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary — all of which have gone in a very abrupt away.
So I will say Hong Kong is also very important in the U.S.-China relationship: not only because the trust between the two countries have been greatly shattered due to China's draconian action in Hong Kong, but also it sets a new impetus for the United States to evaluate the overall validity of the one country two systems scheme. And because China has conducted Hong Kong business since the 1980s and also particularly after 1997 — in an effort to convince the world that it can be trusted, it should really be taken seriously with its own promise. None of that has become true so far. And, you know, in any bilateral relationship, mutual trust is the most fundamental thing. Now mutual trust between Washington and Beijing has been seriously damaged because of the Hong Kong abomination.
VOA: On Taiwan. Does the United States oppose unilateral change of the status quo in the Taiwan Strait as Chinese airplanes increasingly fly into Taiwan’s airspace? There has been a debate on a strategic clarity to deter a potential Chinese invasion in Taiwan. What are your thoughts?
Yu: The United States policy toward Taiwan and Taiwan Strait has been very clear from the beginning: that we resolutely oppose any unilateral use of arms or force to settle the disputes between the two sides.
Any settlement must be agreed to by people on both sides and any unilateral application of force will be responded by a U.S. action, which will be a resolute one.
Regarding specific form of that reaction, I'm not going to speculate at this moment because it is a hypothetical question but be assured that our response will be resolute.
VOA: Last week, you were among the U.S. delegation in Secretary Pompeo’s visit to South Asia. As you are his senior advisor on China policy, there is a China component in this trip. What’s your takeaway?
Yu: Well, from the beginning of this administration, we have adjusted our global strategic priorities. We view China as the leading challenge of our times, and that includes several aspects.
Number one, the China challenge is serious, it’s at the top of our national security agenda. Number two, the China challenge is of a global nature—it's no longer regional, no longer limited in one particular geographic area, it has also reached the high-tech area, in cyber, space and in many other domains. So our China policy has always reflected those aspects of a global nature, its beyond-the-horizon nature. Our visit to South Asia and Southeast Asian countries obviously contains many very strong China components of that.
Because it's not just us. All of the five countries that we just visited: India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Indonesia, and Vietnam — all shared the same sentiment, the same understanding about China that looms large in their own existential reality.
But we are not dictating what they should do. We're just there to compare notes to let them know that we're ready to help. We're there, too, to be a force for good. So that's the purpose of this trip.
And I think, you know, as Secretary Pompeo has stated numerous times: it’s a very resounding success, no matter how Beijing tries to twist the purpose of this trip and the consequences of this trip. This trip has been very good in promoting mutual understanding between the United States and each of the countries visited.
VOA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yu: Not at this moment. And thank you for your interview.
VOA: Thank you for talking to VOA.
Yu: You’re welcome.