WASHINGTON: Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday accused China of aggression in areas from security to trade as he portrayed the Asian power as a villain interfering in US elections.
Expanding on a theme first aired by President Donald Trump at the United Nations last week, Pence accused China of waging an “unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion” ahead of critical congressional elections on November 6.
“To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working; China wants a different American president,” Pence said in a speech at the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.
“There can be no doubt — China is meddling in America’s democracy.”
The administration’s offensive on China comes as a cloud hangs over Trump with an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 presidential election in the Republican real estate tycoon’s favour.
Just hours before Pence spoke, the US Justice Department indicted seven Russian intelligence agents as part of a joint crackdown with Britain and The Netherlands on alleged hacking by Moscow, including against the Democratic Party, Trump’s domestic rivals.
But Pence said, “As a senior career member of our intelligence community recently told me, what the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country.”
Pence’s sharply worded address comes days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to visit China on a trip focused on nuclear diplomacy with North Korea — an area on which the United States still seeks Beijing’s cooperation.
Relations between the world’s two largest economies have plummeted in recent weeks with Trump slapping US$200 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods amid complaints over Beijing’s trade policies.
Trump has “made clear that we’ll levy even more tariffs, with the possibility of substantially more than doubling that number, unless a fair and reciprocal deal is made,” Pence said.
He lashed out at China for focusing its retaliatory tariffs on states vital to the Republicans’ electoral chances.
He also slammed Beijing for placing a multi-page advertisement extolling the virtues of US-China trade in the Des Moines Register, the highest-circulation newspaper in Iowa, a swing state whose longtime governor Terry Branstad is Trump’s ambassador to Beijing.
Such paid supplements by foreign governments are commonplace in US newspapers, but Pence complained that the United States was not allowed to print similar advertisements in China’s state-controlled press.
Hailing Taiwan as model
Touching a particularly sensitive issue for China, Pence attacked Beijing for coaxing three more Latin American nations to switch recognition from Taiwan.
“These actions threaten the stability of the Taiwan Strait — and the United States of America condemns them,” Pence said.
The democratic, self-governing island is home to nationalists who fled in 1949 after losing China’s civil war and has waged an increasingly lonely campaign for diplomatic recognition as the Republic of China.
Pence made clear that the United States still adhered to its four-decade policy of recognizing only Beijing but added to applause: “Let me also say that Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people.”
Pence also criticized China over its patrols near Japanese-administered islands claimed by Beijing — known as the Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in China.
He accused Beijing of showing its “aggression” when a Chinese navy vessel recently sailed in the dispute-ridden South China Sea near the USS Decatur destroyer, which according to US officials had to make a quick detour to avoid a collision.
“Despite such reckless harassment, the United States Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand,” Pence said.
“We will not be intimidated; we will not stand down.”
The vice president, a favourite of conservative US Christians, also criticized China on human rights, voicing disappointment that rising prosperity has not led to reforms.
China “has taken a sharp U-turn toward control and oppression,” Pence said, adding, “A new wave of persecution is crashing down on Chinese Christians, Buddhists and Muslims.”