On October 4th, Vice President of the United States Michael R. Pence delivered a major foreign policy speech at the Hudson Institute, a think tank based in Washington D.C.. During a time when the USA-PRC relationship seems uncertain, mainly due to the ongoing trade war, Vice President Pence’s remarks became the first major policy speech on China that came directly from a high-ranking White House official. Additionally, as world leaders are unsure who from the Administration currently represents the United States, China experts and the Chinese government have long been waiting for such an address to define the United States’ role in the two countries’ relationship. Pence was vocal in stating the Administration’s wide-ranging criticisms on the Communist Regime, which include: China’s attempt to undermine the Trump Administration, unfair trading policies, intellectual property theft, currency manipulation, and more.
In his speech, Pence declared that “as we speak, Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States.” In addition, Pence also indicated that the Trump Administration “will not back down” to any threat made by the Chinese government. He also denounced China’s “debt diplomacy” to expand its influence across the world and reaffirmed America’s leadership role in the globe. Moreover, he condemned Chinese persecution of religious minorities, which involves inhumane practices of illegally incarcerating Uyghur Muslims under the banner of “re-education.”
Domestically, a New York Times article by Jane Perlez headlined that “Pence’s China Speech Seen as Portent of ‘New Cold War.’” The article claimed that the Vice President’s “speech was clearly directed at a domestic audience” by citing that Pence chose to deliver his address at a conservative-leaning think tank. Perlex also pointed out the timing of the speech, since it coincided with China’s National Day Golden Week Holidays, meaning that its viewership would have been low within Mainland China. Furthermore, the Post article was concerned that the Vice President might have pushed too far in accusing the Chinese of directly meddling in America’s elections. While there is strong evidence that demonstrates China’s agriculture and manufacture-focused retaliation tariffs are aimed towards President Trump’s base, as well as proof of Chinese media companies buying full pages of ‘ads’ in American newspapers, the U.S. government has not found confirmation of Chinese involvement in meddling in its upcoming midterm elections.
On the other side of the Pacific, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying released a press release attempting to make clear “China’s Position in Response to US Leader’s Groundless Accusations Against China.” The press release not only declares that the Chinese people are “highly confident about Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” but it also dismisses Vice President Pence’s claims against China as “nothing but speaking on hearsay evidence.” China’s state-owned media outlet, Xinhua, responded to the speech by publishing a piece of commentary titled “The five fallacies in Pence’s China speech,” and accused that Pence’s “trite allegations” towards China will only deteriorate the relationship between the two nations. In addition, during Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo’s brief visit to China a few days later, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi responded directly to Pompeo by claiming that Vice President Pence’s remarks are misguided and that the speech “directly impacted our mutual trust and cast a shadow over our bilateral relations.”
Meanwhile, in Taiwan, President Dr. Tsai Ing-wen tweeted “I thank @VP @mike_pence for recognizing #Taiwan’s democratization achievements & the importance of stability in the Taiwan Strait. Working together with the #US, we look forward to the continued promotion of peace & stability in the region.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted to commend Pence on bringing “attention to regional security & concern over #China’s actions in the global community.” Pence’s remarks were favored in Taiwan since the Vice President strongly criticized China aggressive poaching of Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies.
While it is too early to determine the lasting implications of Pence’s policy speech on China, the speech should be regarded as the administration’s official China policy and a part of the broader “Indo-Pacific Strategy” put in place by the Trump White House.