Secretary of State Michael Pompeo will come to Hawaii today for meetings with his Chinese counterpart, according to two people familiar with the plans, as tensions between the countries run high over trade, the new coronavirus, the future of Hong Kong and other issues.
Secrecy around the planned encounter between Pompeo and Yang Jiechi, the ruling Communist Party’s top foreign policy official, has been tight, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a meeting that hasn’t been publicly announced. They said the two plan to hold the talks at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
One of the people said China requested the meeting. Neither side has publicly confirmed the event, and the people declined to say what the agenda would be.
The meeting comes amid extraordinary strains in relations, with President Donald Trump blaming China for the global coronavirus pandemic, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The U.S. has also threatened to revoke Hong Kong’s special trading status over concerns that China is seeking to erode the former British colony’s political autonomy.
Pompeo has, if anything, been more vocal than Trump in denouncing China in recent months. He referred frequently to “the Wuhan virus,” repeatedly lambasted the Communist Party over the treatment of protesters in Hong Kong and ridiculed the Chinese Foreign Ministry for criticizing police actions toward protesters in the U.S. after the killing of George Floyd.
“The contrast couldn’t be more clear: During the best of times, China ruthlessly imposes communism,” Pompeo told reporters last week, “and amidst the most difficult challenges the United States faces, we work to secure freedom for all.”
The State Department declined to comment on the meeting plans, reported earlier by Politico, as did the Chinese Embassy in Washington. In remarks earlier Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the two sides maintain communication via diplomatic channels.
While Pompeo has occasionally spoken with Yang by phone, he’s held no publicly announced meetings with top Chinese leaders since a secretive get-together with Yang in New York in August. Pompeo, who will be accompanied to Hawaii by Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell, hasn’t traveled to China since late 2018.