‘The West is Winning,’ Pompeo Said. The West Wasn’t Buying It.

“The Chinese Communist Party is heading even faster and further in the wrong direction — more internal repression, more predatory economic practices, more heavy-handedness, and most concerning for me, a more aggressive military posture,” he said. That has become a bipartisan view: His assessment was echoed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi later responded, telling the forum that Mr. Esper and Mr. Pompeo “say the same thing wherever they go about China” and dismissed their remarks as “lies.”

“The root cause of all these problems and issues is that the U.S. does not want to see the rapid development and rejuvenation of China, and still less would they want to accept the success of a socialist country,” Mr. Wang said.

“The most important task for China and the U.S. is to sit down together to have a serious dialogue and find a way for two major countries with different social systems to live in harmony and interact in peace,” he added. “China’s ready, and we hope the U.S. will work with us.”

Mr. Esper later told reporters that he was cautiously optimistic about a seven-day “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan that could lead to a peace accord with the Taliban, saying that “we are going to suspend a significant part of our operations” in the country when the Taliban fulfill their part. But while American forces could come down to 8,600, from about 13,000, he said there was not yet an agreed-upon timeline for further reductions.

Many eyes were also on Mr. Macron, whose relations with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have been somewhat rocky. Mr. Macron made a plea for better European integration and more unity in defining European interests, urging the Germans to help develop “a European security culture” and not to see every security issue “through American eyes.’’

On Russia, he said: “We need a European policy, not just a trans-Atlantic policy.’’

He insisted that he was not frustrated with the apparent paralysis of the current German government, but conceded that he is “impatient.’’