NEW YORK — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence sharply criticized Chinese aggression and interference, both military and economic, in a wide-ranging speech on Thursday at a Washington-based think tank that called out Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea and singled out Google for its plans to return to China.
“Google should immediately end development of the Dragonfly app that will strengthen the Communist Party’s censorship, and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers,” Pence said of the secretive project, which would allow the tech company to restart its search engine operations in mainland China in compliance with Beijing’s strict censorship laws. The company’s plans have met with opposition from employees, who have circulated a letter demanding more transparency from management.
The speech comes as U.S.-China relations grow increasingly confrontational. At a news conference last week, U.S. President Donald Trump suggested that his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping may no longer be one of friendship.
Pence noted that the Chinese Communist Party had used an array of policies that were inconsistent with free and fair trade, including “tariffs, quotas, currency manipulation, forced technology transfer, intellectual property theft, and industrial subsidies that are handed out like candy to foreign investment.”
He added that these policies had built Beijing’s manufacturing base, “at the expense of its competitors — especially the United States of America.”
Through its “Made in China 2025” initiative, Pence argued, “the Communist Party has set its sights on controlling 90% of the world’s most advanced industries,” and that “Chinese security agencies have masterminded the wholesale theft of American technology — including cutting-edge military blueprints.”
Furthermore, he said that Chinese officials had been pressuring U.S. businesses to rail against the Trump administration’s trade strategy, citing an example of the Chinese government threatening to deny a business license for a major U.S. corporation if they refused to speak out against U.S. policies.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying issued a statement decrying Pence’s speech for “unwarranted accusations” regarding China’s domestic and foreign policy.
“We urge the U.S. to correct its wrongdoing, stop groundlessly accusing and slandering China and harming China’s interests and China-U. S. ties,” she said.
Turning to security issues, Pence said that Beijing was “using its power like never before,” criticizing the country’s actions in surrounding waters. In the South China Sea, the vice president said China had reneged on a previous declaration of having “no intention to militarize” the sea. “Beijing has deployed advanced anti-ship and anti-air missiles atop an archipelago of military bases constructed on artificial islands,” he said.
Pence pointed to an incident this week involving a Chinese naval vessel coming “within 45 yards of the USS Decatur.” He reiterated that the U.S. Navy would continue to “fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand.”
“We will not be intimidated, and we will not stand down,” he said to applause.
The vice president also touched on the East China Sea, saying that China routinely patrols around the Senkaku Islands “which are administered by Japan.”
“The speech is indicative of a broader shift across the U.S. government towards a more confrontational stance towards China,” said Michael Hirson, Asia director of the Eurasia Group.
“This is the first time that a senior official has delivered a broadside against China across such a broad array of issues,” Hirson said.
Further upping the ante, Pence raised the issue of Taiwan, a topic Beijing considers extremely sensitive. “While our administration will continue to respect our ‘One China’ policy … America will always believe that Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people,” he said.
The “One China” policy acknowledges Beijing’s position that there is only one Chinese government, and forms the basis of Washington maintaining diplomatic relations with the authorities on the mainland and not Taipei.
Pence said the U.S. had hoped that economic liberalization would bring China into a greater partnership with the world. “Instead, China has chosen economic aggression, which has in turn emboldened its growing military.”
Following up on an assertion made by Trump last week, Pence accused Beijing of launching an all-out effort to interfere in U.S. politics and undermine American democracy.
“To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working and China wants a different American president,” Pence said. “There can be no doubt, China is meddling in American democracy.” He said the intelligence community had found that China is working to exploit policy divisions between federal and local levels of government.
“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,” he asserted.