LONDON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the Chinese Communist Party "the central threat of our times" Thursday, even as he sought to talk up the prospects of a U.S. trade deal with Britain, which rebuffed American pressure to ban a Chinese company from future telecommunications infrastructure.
The scathing criticism of the Chinese government was the strongest language Pompeo has used as the Trump administration seeks to convince U.S. allies of the risks posed by using equipment from Huawei, a Chinese technology giant.
At the same time, Pompeo sought to reassure British officials that even though the two countries saw the issue differently, it would not undermine the strong bond between them.
Pompeo's reassurances come at a delicate moment for the British government as it begins the process of forging new stand-alone trade deals after it formally leaves the European Union on Friday.
Speaking at an appearance with the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, Pompeo referred derisively to a 2016 warning from President Barack Obama that Brexit would place Britain at the "back of the queue" in any trade negotiations.
"We intend to put the United Kingdom at the front of the line," Pompeo said.
While Britain's security and economy depend on a close relationship with Washington, China is a significant investor in the country and a growing buyer of British goods.
That was reflected in Britain's decision this week to allow Huawei to play a limited role in its systems for the next generation of high-speed mobile internet, known as 5G.
With Washington pressing governments across Europe and elsewhere to ban Huawei equipment from new 5G networks, leaders have had to walk a fine line, trying not to antagonize either economic giant while not falling behind in the race to build the next generation of information technology.
Pompeo said that U.S. concerns were not about any one company but, rather, the Chinese system.
"When you allow the information of your citizens or the national security information of your citizens to transit a network that the Chinese Communist Party has a legal mandate to obtain, it creates risk," Pompeo said.
"While we still have to be enormously vigilant about terror, there are still challenges all across the world, the Chinese Communist Party presents the central threat of our times," he said.
Pompeo cautioned that the British decision on Huawei could affect the way information is shared.
"We will never permit American national security information to go across a network we do not have trust and confidence in," he said.
London was Pompeo's first stop on a five-nation tour that includes Ukraine, where he will become the first U.S. Cabinet member to visit the country since President Donald Trump's July phone call with the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky.