Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Wednesday that China was aggressively attempting to influence state and local governments, including through seemingly innocuous sister city agreements, delivering the message in the presidential battleground state of Wisconsin.
“Telling the truth about China isn’t partisan,” Pompeo said to an audience of lawmakers and guests in the Wisconsin state Senate chamber. “It’s principled. And it protects our people.”
Pompeo’s visit to the Wisconsin Capitol came after Attorney General William Barr was in Milwaukee on Tuesday and Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to be in Eau Claire on Thursday.
The Trump administration has imposed sanctions against Chinese officials over human rights and other issues and ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to close.
Pompeo warned that sister city programs, including in Wisconsin, fall under a program that’s part of the Chinese government’s “overseas propaganda.”
He called it “not so friendly to American interests.”
Pompeo also cautioned lawmakers that when approached by a Chinese diplomat, “it is likely not in the spirit of true cooperation or friendship.”
He urged lawmakers to investigate who is paying for any trip to China they may be offered once travel restrictions are lifted.
He said that Democrats and Republicans together “have a friend in the Trump administration” to help push back against China’s efforts.
Pompeo came at the invitation of Republican Senate President Roger Roth, who had spoken with Pompeo about a request he received from Chinese officials earlier this year to pass a resolution praising the Chinese government for its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pompeo said Roth was right to delete the email. He said that what happened to Roth was happening in statehouses across the country.
Pompeo said the Chinese government has a “much more sinister vision of engagement” than other foreign governments, with the goal of making Americans more receptive to its form of authoritarianism.
Wisconsin is a hotly contested battleground state that President Donald Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016.
Polls show a tight race again this year and both Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, as well as their surrogates, have made campaigning in Wisconsin a priority.
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