A top aide to President Trump on Monday delivered a critique of the Chinese government's efforts to clamp down on free speech in a speech delivered in Mandarin and seemingly aimed at the Chinese public.
Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, who worked as a journalist in China early in his career, hailed two "brave" Chinese doctors who raised early alarms about the coronavirus and faced retribution from the Chinese government.
"When small acts of bravery are stamped out by governments, big acts of bravery follow," Pottinger said in remarks streamed for a virtual symposium held by the University of Virginia's Miller Center.
Pottinger's remarks come as the White House and the Chinese government have been engaging in increasingly heated rhetoric toward each other over the handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
He said he hoped delivering his speech in Mandarin would "open up a conversation with friends in China and around the world."
Pottinger highlighted the actions of Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist working in Wuhan, who tried to warn his colleagues about the new virus in December and was reprimanded by the police. Li died in February after becoming infected with the coronavirus.
"Dr. Li did a big brave thing," Pottinger said about Li going public after being interrogated by the police.
He also praised Dr. Ai Fen, another doctor in Wuhan, who raised concerns about the virus.
President Trump, who was initially complimentary of China's management of the virus, has now blamed China for not doing enough to contain the spread.
Pottinger said China needs more "populism" and less "nationalism."
"When a privileged few grow too remote and self-interested, populism is what pulls them back or pitches them overboard," he said.
Pottinger also complimented Taiwan and the protesters in Hong Kong — remarks that are likely to anger the Chinese government.