Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday called upon the young democracies of central and Eastern Europe to embrace their hard-won freedoms as they face threats from Russia, China and others while seeing backsliding closer to home, including in Belarus.
America’s top diplomat said the rise in authoritarianism was not an abstract trend but was apparent in Europe and its backyard, notably in Belarus, which has been wracked by unrest since its disputed presidential election on Sunday.
“We see that authoritarianism didn’t die in 1989 or in 1991. The storm was still there. It was simply over the horizon. While we wrote the epitaph on those types of regimes, we now know that it was premature,” Pompeo said in a speech to Czech lawmakers.
He and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Bibas, at a separate event earlier, had denounced the post-election violence and repression in Belarus.
“We will continue to speak about the risks to the Belarusian people,” Pompeo said. “We want them to have freedom in the same way that people do across the world.”
The Trump administration has sought to improve long-strained relations with Belarus, and when Pompeo visited the country in early February, he was the first secretary of state to do so in 26 years. The U.S. recently nominated the first ambassador to Minsk in a decade.
Bibas said recent events in Belarus were “unacceptable.”
“It was shocking to see what has happened,” he said. ”To see something like that happening in Europe is so shocking so close to us. It is scandalous.”
Pompeo’s speech to the Czech Senate came on the second day of a four-nation tour of the region focused on European energy dependence on Russia and on security in Chinese-owned telecommunications networks.
In his remarks, Pompeo took a particularly hard stance against China, which he said was an even bigger threat to democracy than Russia.
“Russia continues to seek to undermine your democracy, your security through disinformation campaigns and through cyberattacks,” he said. “It’s even tried to rewrite your history.”
Pompeo, however, said that “even more of a threat is the Chinese Communist Party and its campaigns of coercion and control.”
“The CCP is already enmeshed in our economies, in our politics, in our societies in ways the Soviet Union never was,” he said.
Pompeo told lawmakers that they are right to resist Chinese attempts to assert economic and political leverage over them.
He noted several recent developments in which China has threatened Czech officials with retaliation for showing support for Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong.
The Senate president plans to visit Taipei later this month despite China’s objections, a move that Pompeo applauded.
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