By MATTHEW LEE, AP Diplomatic Writer
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday invoked the 30th anniversary of the demise of communism to implore countries in Central and Eastern Europe to resist Chinese and Russian influence.
Speaking in the Slovak capital of Bratislava, Pompeo said China and Russia pose twin threats to the democratic and free-market gains made since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
He said the post-communist countries are particularly vulnerable to Chinese and Russian predatory investment and political meddling. To combat the threat, he said, the United States is committed to boosting its engagement in the region, through defense cooperation agreements and exchange programs.
He said because of its history and geography, Slovakia has “a special appreciation for the aggressive role Russia continues to play in the region,” particularly in Ukraine.
But, he said, “Russia is not the only nation that seeks to erode sovereignty and freedom in Europe.”
Pompeo said he had raised with Slovak officials the “need to guard against China’s economic and other efforts to create dependence and manipulate your political system.”
“It’s real, it’s intentional and they are trying to do things that undermine your sovereignty,” he said.
Pompeo was in Slovakia on the second leg of a five-nation European tour that began in Hungary and will take him to Poland, Belgium and Iceland.
He renewed a warning he delivered on Monday in Budapest that the United States may be forced to scale back certain operations in Europe and elsewhere if countries continue to do business with Chinese telecommunications company Huawei.
He said the U.S. had strong concerns about Huawei’s motives in Europe, especially in NATO and European Union member states, as well as its business practices.
“We’re fine with companies competing, but they have got to do so in a way that’s fair and open and transparent, and they can’t do so with anything other than an economic motive,” he said.
Pompeo said nations would have to consider choosing between Huawei and the United States. The warning was broad but pointedly delivered first in Hungary, a NATO ally and European Union member, where Huawei is a major player.
The U.S. has been warning countries about the risks of Chinese telecom technology as governments choose providers for the rollout of 5G wireless internet, which will enable faster download speeds but also greater connectivity among devices.
China has said the U.S. is trying to suppress a rising competitor, and on Tuesday it lashed out at Pompeo’s comments.
“For some time, the U.S. has spared no effort to churn out all kinds of unwarranted charges against and fabricate various kinds of China threats theory,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “It flagrantly threatened and drove a wedge into the relationship between China and other countries and slandered and cracked down on Chinese companies’ legitimate development rights and interests.”
She called the campaign “neither fair nor moral” and “bullying.”
“We hope that all parties can abandon ideological prejudice and zero-sum thinking and provide fair, just, open, inclusive, transparent and standardized conditions and environment for normal friendly and win-win cooperation,” she said.
Huawei, which manufactures telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics, also pushed back.
“We would encourage all governments to take an objective look at the evidence and maintain an open, engaged approach to 5G and other network developments,” said William Wu, the CEO of Huawei Technologies Hungary. “We believe the solution to more secure networks lies in cooperation across the whole industry. Excluding one supplier from technological developments in cyber security will damage technical and economic progress and harm competition in the ICT market.”
Pompeo said he hoped to reverse what he called a decade of U.S. disengagement in Central and Eastern Europe that created a vacuum Russia and China have exploited. Over the course of the past 10 years, he said, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leaders have become much more aggressive in the region and made inroads.
“I want to make sure that the Slovakian people understand that America is engaged, we’re back,” he said earlier at a ceremony at Slovakia’s “Gate of Freedom,” a memorial on the banks of the Morava River at the Slovakian border with Austria that commemorates the 400 people killed at the borders of the former Czechoslovakia while attempting to escape the Iron Curtain between 1945 and 1989.