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In London on Friday, during his first major policy speech since becoming defense secretary, Esper argued that Beijing seeks greater global influence by leveraging economic power and stealing technology.
“I would caution my friends in Europe — this is not a problem in some distant land that does not affect you."
“The more dependent a country becomes on Chinese investment and trade, the more susceptible they are to coercion and retribution when they act outside of Beijing’s wishes,” Esper said in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute, defense and security think tank.
According to The Associated Press, by taking this speech to London, Esper seemed to be suggesting that Europeans do not fully share U.S. concerns regarding China’s efforts to militarize disputed territory in the South China Sea and its vast trade surplus with the U.S.
Esper’s audience of defense experts and officials was as interested in Middle East issues as in the main topic of his speech. In response to a question about the U.S. approach to Iran, Esper acknowledged differences with some allies but stressed that President Trump is determined to stay on his course of “maximum pressure” through economic sanctions.
During the speech, Esper said the goal is to compel the Iranians to negotiate an agreement to replace the 2015 nuclear deal, saying a new agreement would have to assure that Iran “doesn’t pursue or acquire a nuclear weapon not just in 10 or 15 years but forever."
“It seems in some ways that Iran is inching toward that place where we could have talks,” he said.
In his remarks, Esper was making the case for the Trump administration’s argument that Western nations must do more to counter what he called efforts by China and Russia to “disrupt the international order” to gain an advantage.
“For anyone who wonders what a world dominated by Beijing might look like,” he said, “I would argue all you need to do is look at how they treat their own people, within their borders.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.