Yu Maochun: Can U.S.-China decoupling be reversed?

Is the perceived “decoupling” of the United States from China a long-standing U.S. policy decision, or is it a decision that is likely to be changed again next year or by a future U.S. administration?

A day before US presidential election day, a senior US official said “the ball is on China’s side” as to whether US-China decoupling will become a permanent element of US policy or not.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s chief China policy and planning adviser, Miles Yu, is currently helping shape U.S. policy toward China.

On Monday (Nov. 2), Yu Maochun was interviewed by Voice of America. He said that while decoupling has never been a “stated policy” of the United States, “decoupling is happening,” he told VOA’s State Department correspondent. He told VOA’s State Department correspondent that future U.S. decisions will depend on how China responds to this “measured approach.

Yu Maochun said the U.S. government would “soon” make a formal decision on whether to characterize the Communist Party’s crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang as “genocide.

Yu is considered one of Pompeo’s most influential advisers on U.S. policy toward China. He said that “mutual trust between Washington and Beijing has been severely damaged” by the CCP’s failure to live up to its international commitments on Hong Kong, leading the United States to reassess the overall effectiveness of “one country, two systems.

Asked what action the United States would take to deter a possible Chinese attack on Taiwan, Yu Maochun told VOA that the United States “strongly opposes any unilateral use of force to resolve a dispute between the two sides.

He said he would not speculate on “hypothetical questions,” but was certain that the U.S. response would be “resolute.

Pompeo has praised Yu Maochun as “a core member of my advisory team on how to ensure that we protect Americans and ensure our freedom in the face of challenges from the (Communist Party of China)”.

I’m very proud of my Chinese heritage,” Maochun Yu told VOA. I’m very proud of the fact that I love the Chinese people and the fact that I have a lot of Chinese friends. My roots are there.” He added that what he does and what he says “has received tremendous support from Chinese people in China and abroad.”

The following is a translation of an excerpt from an English-language interview with Yu Maochun conducted by Voice of America. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

U.S.-China De-linking

VOA: U.S.-China relations are now in their worst state in decades as Washington has taken a very tough stance against China. Many believe the United States is decoupling from China. Do you see this as a permanent and long-term change in U.S. policy or is this something that could change in the next year or future U.S. administrations?

YU MAO CHUN: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to do this interview.

Decoupling has never been a stated U.S. policy, but it’s happening. It’s entirely China’s fault. It’s because China is behaving in a way that makes it impossible for a healthy bilateral relationship to continue as it should; because the Trump administration is responding to reality. It’s not because we’re artificially hyping tensions – we’ve changed our modus operandi from merely managing a flawed relationship to confronting reality. This is what Secretary Pompeo has said repeatedly: We can no longer ignore the political and ideological differences between the two models of governance, represented by China and the United States, respectively.

That’s why we’ve adopted a new approach to this relationship, not just to manage it, but to change the discourse to a reciprocal and goal-oriented approach. And because of that, I think you’re well aware that China refuses to respond in a very positive and constructive way, and that’s the basic reason why there are tensions.

As to your question of whether this will become a permanent feature of the bilateral relationship, I hope not. The key is how China responds to the kind of measured approach that we have taken. I think any rational country would recognize that as the right thing to do. We treat China just like we treat any other country. China is not an exception. China can’t expect the United States to say nothing when it’s holding a million Uighurs in concentration camps. China shouldn’t expect us to do nothing when there is a huge imbalance in trade. China should also expect something from us: from now on, if a spy steals our industrial and defense secrets, we will take appropriate action.

So it’s all up to China. The ball is on China’s side.

VOA: What other actions will we take against China in the near future? Will there be more entities designated as foreign missions, more sanctions, more consulates closed, etc.?

YU MAOCHUN: I think we know that the first responsibility of any responsible government in a democracy is to protect its national interests and to ensure the security of its people and its critical infrastructure. To that end, we have designated as foreign missions a number of Chinese entities that operate freely in a free and democratic environment in the United States. We will continue to do so. We’re not going to tell you the specifics of what we’re going to do in the near future. But that’s the guiding principle. I think you know, the Chinese government operates across the board in the United States. Their government-controlled agents and organizations have been very, very rampant in a free and democratic society like ours. So we have to take appropriate action. As you can see, it’s not just at the State Department, it’s a whole-of-government approach: our Department of Justice, our FBI, our Department of Homeland Security, we all take joint action to achieve the same goal: which is to protect American democracy as well as to protect the American people.

Personal attacks

VOA: The next question is the elephant in the room. If I may ask, China has had some very harsh criticism of you, calling you a traitor and even physically attacking you. Have you become a scapegoat? Do you want to comment on that?

YU MAOCHUN: Normally, I don’t comment on the ones that aren’t worthy of comment to me. I think that’s a very common strategy that China has adopted: to change the narrative of the controversy. They tend to ignore the root causes of the major events that led to the deterioration of U.S.-China relations. As Secretary of State Pompeo said, this is actually due to fundamental political and ideological differences between the two countries. Instead, they try to assign blame to one or two specific individuals.

That’s the nature of this regime. Identifying its enemies as the ultimate cause of something far greater than the individuals themselves.

Second, one of the major contributions of this administration to U.S.-China relations has been our renewed recognition that the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people are not the same thing. And that’s what really scares the Chinese government. And for that, they blame me and a few others for making that contribution. This is just stupid.

Since the Chinese government has stepped up its attacks on me, I’ve had tremendous support from Chinese people in China and abroad, mostly from within China, in a variety of ways that have just completely reassured me that what we’re doing in the United States is the right thing to do.

The Chinese government can’t really tolerate the idea that it’s isolated. It is isolated not only from the international environment and from the international community, but from its own people. That’s why their attacks on people like the U.S. Secretary of State and myself are so vicious and, in a way, so desperate. That’s my answer.

VOICE OF AMERICA: It is true that there is a difference between the Chinese people and the Chinese Communist Party. But there is also a perception among Chinese Americans that China-bashing is alienating Chinese living in the U.S.; for example, banning WeChat has been criticized as banning their primary means of communication with their Chinese families. What’s your response to that?

Yu Maochun: WeChat is a good software. WeChat is not the best software. The reason WeChat is such a powerful tool, such a powerful software, is because the Chinese Communist Party has banned all other competitors. So only WeChat and a few other pieces of software remain. They are completely controlled by the Chinese communist government. So the real culprit in this dilemma, or the inconvenience caused by all these WeChat restrictions, is actually the Chinese Communist Party itself. So that’s why I say that WeChat itself – the technology is good, but the political control exerted by the Communist Party of China is absolutely dangerous to the national security of the United States.

So it’s a dilemma. But I think it’s a dilemma that only Beijing, not Washington, can solve.


VOA: In the case of the Uighurs, is the U.S. government close to characterizing China’s repression of the Uighurs as genocide? What are the considerations behind this characterization?

Yu Maochun: There are several criteria that must be met in order to designate an atrocity or genocide. One of them is obviously the legal standard. I think if we look at all the evidence that we have gathered and what the world has witnessed, characterizing the atrocities committed by the People’s Republic of China in Xinjiang as genocide is worth considering. That process has its own logic and timeline. So I’m not going to comment specifically on that, but you’ll see where we stand shortly.

VOA: The follow-up question is, when you say “soon,” does that mean in the next few months?

Yu Maochun: You’ll see.

The Hong Kong Question

VOA: On the Hong Kong issue, after several actions and sanctions by the United States, Beijing and the Hong Kong government don’t seem to be changing their tune on enforcing national security laws. What is the U.S.’s ultimate goal on this issue?

Yu Maochun: Hong Kong is a tragedy, and it’s a tragedy not only for the Chinese and the people of Hong Kong, but also for the world, because the world had great hopes for China over the past few decades. In fact, since 1984, when China solemnly pledged to give Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy backed by a set of international principles, including the rule of law, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary, all of that has very suddenly gone away.

So I would argue that Hong Kong is also very important in U.S.-China relations, not only because China’s draconian actions in Hong Kong have seriously undermined trust between the two countries, but also because it has provided new impetus for the United States to assess the overall effectiveness of “one country, two systems. Because China has been dealing with the Hong Kong issue since the 1980s, and especially since 1997, it has sought to convince the world that it can be trusted and that its promises can be taken seriously. So far, none of that has come to pass. You know, in any bilateral relationship, mutual trust is the most basic thing. Right now, mutual trust between Washington and Beijing has been severely damaged because of the abhorrent things that have happened in Hong Kong.

The Taiwan question.

VOA: On the Taiwan issue, with Chinese aircraft increasingly entering Taiwan’s airspace, is the U.S. opposed to unilaterally changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait? There has been debate about how to strategically and explicitly deter a possible Chinese attack on Taiwan. What are your thoughts?

YU MAO-CHUN: United States policy on Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait has been very clear from the outset: We are firmly opposed to any unilateral use of force to resolve disputes between the two sides.

Any solution must have the consent of the people on both sides, and any unilateral use of force will be met with action by the United States, and that response will be resolute.

I will not speculate at this point as to the exact form of that response, because it is a hypothetical question, but it is certain that our response will be resolute.

The trip to South Asia

VOA: Last week, you were part of Secretary of State Pompeo’s U.S. delegation to South Asia. As his senior adviser on China policy, there was a Chinese component to the visit. What do you think were the highlights of the visit?

Yu Maochun: Starting with this administration, we have refocused our global strategy. We see China as the major challenge of our time, and that includes several aspects.

First, China’s challenge is serious; it is at the top of our national security agenda. Second, China’s challenge is global – it is no longer regional, it is no longer confined to a particular geographic area, and it also involves the high-tech sector, including cyber, space, and many other areas. As such, our China has always reflected its global and beyond-the-horizon nature. Our visits to countries in South and Southeast Asia obviously have a lot of very large Chinese components.

Because it’s not just us. The five countries we have just visited, India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Indonesia and Vietnam, all share the same feeling, the same sense of China, which figures prominently in their own existential realities.

But we’re not dictating what they should do. We are simply here to exchange ideas and let them know that we are ready to help. We are there, too, as a force for good. That’s what this visit is about.

And I think, as Secretary Pompeo has said many times: no matter how much Beijing tries to distort the purpose and the outcome of this visit, it was a great success. The visit was very useful in promoting mutual understanding between the United States and each of the countries that were visited.

VOA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Yu Maochun: Not at the moment. Thank you for this interview!

Voice of America: Thank you for the interview with Voice of America.

Yu Maochun: You’re welcome.