Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
Virtual Remarks at the IRI Dinner and John S. McCain Freedom Award Ceremony
Good evening, IRI.
Dr. Twining, Senator Sullivan, thank you for those introductions. And thanks to the IRI board and staff for this honor. I’m truly humbled. I’m just sorry that we couldn’t physically be together tonight.
I have the award here with me. I’m looking forward to showing it off to 1998’s honoree, my fellow Kansan, Bob Dole. I’m sure he’ll say that IRI’s standards must be slipping.
Before I continue, I want to acknowledge Roberta McCain, the mother of the man for whom this award is named. To John’s family, including his beloved wife, Cindy, the Pompeos send our sincere condolences for her passing yesterday.
Roberta McCain left a remarkable, 108-year legacy to this country – a true American patriot.
I got to know a part of the McCain tradition of service when I worked with Senator McCain in Congress.
John did so much for this great country he loved and for freedom abroad. That work continues through his family, in the institute that bears his name, and in countless places around the world made freer by his work and by IRI.
Organizations like IRI were a dream when in 1982 President Reagan declared his objective at Westminster to “foster the infrastructure of democracy.”
IRI got started just a year later. Since then, you’ve advanced the cause of democracy on almost every continent.
You’ve been the home of men and women who’ve upheld America’s highest ideals of public service, like the late, great Lorne Craner, whose leadership helped build this Institute, and whose passing we also mourned earlier this year.
I’m proud that my team at State boasts several IRI alums, including Deputy Secretary Biegun and Ambassador Currie.
Senator McCain would also be proud that today’s award is shared with heroes on freedom’s frontlines:
The Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Movement and the Belarus Pro-Democracy Movement.
Your support for them embodies your lodestar principle: that no human being wishes to live their life with the jackboot of authoritarianism on their neck.
And these brave people show that Ronald Reagan’s was correct that “man’s instinctive desire for freedom and self-determination surfaces again and again.”
We see it in Belarus, Venezuela, Lebanon, Iran, and in countless places large and small. We bear witness to the universal human desire for freedom.
We also see it in 12 courageous Hong Kongers who, on August 23rd, climbed into a speedboat and attempted their escape to freedom.
Their destination was democratic Taiwan, 400 miles away. They reportedly only made in 26 miles outside of Hong Kong’s territorial waters, before security services from Communist China scooped them up.
The Hong Kong 12 are being held incommunicado by CCP authorities on the mainland as we speak. They’ve been denied counsel.
But the Hong Kong 12 have committed no crime. They simply believe that they are worthy of freedom and the unalienable rights due to every person.
They aren’t alone in that belief. America stands with them. The International Republican Institute stands with them.
That’s why the CCP sanctioned IRI last December and Dan Twining just two months ago. Those sanctions are a badge of honor.
Tonight and every day, we honor those seeking their own freedom. Because if America won’t stand for freedom, no one will.
This is the fundamental insight of America’s first patriots, who understood America’s special place role and responsibility.
We’re exceptional because of the wisdom of our founders, who made it possible in the New World for mankind to move beyond the tyranny of the Old.
Our nation is rooted in the courage to declare and fight for the truth, “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Our purpose is built on the idea that every human being is made in the image of God – even those who do not carry His grace in their heart. Here, the people are sovereign, and their rights come before the state.
A little over a year ago, I formed the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. The Commission sparked controversy – that’s a vigorous democracy at work.
But its goal was simple: to help reground America’s foreign policy in our nation’s first principles.
The Commission found that unalienable rights are inseparable from the humanity of all people.
It found that the American spirit is based on the fundamental dignity, the rule of law, and natural equality.
To forget the power of that founding truth is to forget the source of America’s goodness and strength.
I saw this in my career as a tank officer in West Germany.
Most people associate the Wall with Berlin, but I served in a little town called Mödlareuth that had a wall, too.
I was reassigned to another post just two weeks before it came down. I remember calling my friends still there and asking them to describe what that was like.
They said, “People are leaving most of their belongings behind and taking only what they can carry. Foot traffic is high volume and fast and moving only in one direction – toward freedom.”
I returned to Mödlareuth last year. Parts of the barrier from three decades ago have been left up, as have observation towers and barbed wire.
They’re reminders of the pernicious kind of evil that denies the freedoms that make us human.
We see that evil now keeping people down in the deserts of Xinjiang and the plains and peaks of Tibet, the urban streets of Hong Kong, and everywhere behind the Great Firewall.
This leads me to Communist China. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the Chinese Communist Party’s predations against the Chinese people, their neighbors, and the world.
The CCP has put more than a million innocent people in internment camps, where they perform slave labor. It has perpetrated an unrelenting war on faith, even reportedly forcing abortions and sterilizations.
This is the stain of the century that tells us the true nature of the regime.
And let’s not forget that in every place between Hong Kong on the coast and far flung Xinjiang, some 1.4 billion people are denied freedom of speech, assembly, association, the press and every other way that human beings choose their own future.
America is rising to the China challenge.
- We’ve sanctioned CCP officials perpetrating these abuses.
- We’ve issued advisories to American businesses so that they know the risks of working with Chinese state-owned enterprises and opaque supply chains.
- We’re strengthening our military primacy and fortifying a free and open Indo-Pacific alongside our friends and allies.
I was in Japan speaking with our regional partners a couple of weeks ago, and I was at the Vatican just before that to discuss the urgent need for the Church’s moral witness.
The early years of the CCP and Mao’s rise were shaped by Stalin, who once dismissed the power of faith, asking, “How many divisions does the Pope have?”
Pope John Paul the Second answered when he went to Warsaw, drawing hundreds of thousands of Poles to the streets for mass. No divisions could stop them.
The spirit of free people, not the vulgar materialism and repression of Communism, is eternal and universal.
It was because of the West’s moral clarity and leadership, combined with the unbeatable bravery of those behind the Iron Curtain, that the Soviet Union collapsed.
There are now perhaps 100 million or more Christians in China seeking religious freedom, as well as millions Falun Gong devotees, Muslims, Buddhists, and other people of faith.
They’re looking to sources far higher than the volumes of Xi Jinping Thought or Mao’s Little Red Book to guide their lives.
They need the same moral witness today from religious leaders, governments, and civil society groups that made freedom prevail in the past.
They need institutions like IRI to stand up for the not-yet free and foster the institutions and infrastructure of democracy wherever they can.
As past and present honorees have shown, actions must follow words.
That means working with our European allies and calling for a free and fair election that respects the wishes of the Belarusian people.
That means supporting the Iranian people and applying a maximum pressure campaign to deny the number-one state sponsor of terrorism resources of repression.
It means helping the Venezuelan people with humanitarian aid and recognizing that Juan Guaido is the legitimate president – not Maduro and his cronies.
It means making the Middle East more peaceful through the Abraham Accords and working with all our regional partners, especially our democratic ally Israel.
It means strengthening NATO by telling hard truths to our allies that security requires them to shoulder the responsibilities of freedom around the world.
And it means rallying other nations to stand up to the greatest threat to freedom and democracy today: the Chinese Communist Party.
America’s founding principles, our form of government, and our spirit of liberty perfectly suit us to the task in every generation to secure freedom.
We must do this wherever man’s instinctive desire for freedom surfaces.
Today we’re being tested again to see whether our great nation still measures up to our best traditions and highest ideals. I’m confident that we will.
There’s a lot more to discuss, but I’ll leave it there to get to the conversation with Dan.
Thank you, again, to IRI. And congratulations to my co-honorees tonight.
Keep up the fight.