WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday was to accuse China of intimidation in the South China Sea and of trying to undermine President Donald Trump as the administration deploys tough new rhetoric over Chinese trade, economic, and foreign policies.
In a speech to the Hudson Institute, Pence was to say China is using its power in “more proactive and coercive ways to interfere in the domestic policies and politics of the United States.”
“China wants a different American president,” Pence was to say, according to excerpts of prepared remarks from his office.
Pence’s speech comes a week after the Republican president accused China during a meeting of the U.N. Security Council of interfering in American elections to help his Democratic rivals.
“Regrettably, we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election,” Trump said. “They do not want me, or us, to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade.” As proof, Trump later referenced a paid advertising insert in The Des Moines Register by Chinese government-affiliated entities.
Pence is set to charge that China is targeting “industries and states that would play an important role in the 2018 election” as it responds to Trump’s protectionist trade tariffs on China. “By one estimate, more than 80 percent of U.S. counties targeted by China voted for President Trump in 2016; now China wants to turn these voters against our administration,” Pence was to say.
U.S. intelligence agencies assess that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to boost Trump over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton through hacking and releasing sensitive documents and social media manipulation.
Trump signed an executive order in September authorizing sanctions against those found to be involved in election interference, but U.S. officials have said repeatedly they have not seen nearly the same level of activity by Russia and others in the midterms as in 2016.
Pence also was to protest Beijing’s construction of military fortresses in the South China Sea as well as Chinese efforts to intercept American ships carrying out naval exercises designed to contest China’s territorial expansion.
He was to condemn a Chinese ship passing this week dangerously close to the destroyer USS Decatur, calling it “reckless harassment.”
The Decatur traveled within 12 nautical miles (40 km) of Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the Spratly Islands on Sunday, and Pence was to say that China’s vessel came within 45 yards (41 meters) of the Decatur “as it conducted freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, forcing our ship to quickly maneuver to avoid 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. We will not be intimidated. We will not stand down,” Pence was to say.
The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, where Chinese, Japanese and some Southeast Asian navies operate.
China’s Defense Ministry said a Chinese naval ship had been sent to warn the U.S. vessel to leave and that Beijing had irrefutable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and the waters around them.
Much of Pence’s remarks are meant to inform the public of what the U.S. government terms as China’s covert and overt influence campaign.
Since Trump took office last year, his administration has escalated pressure on China, most recently with several rounds of tit-for-tat economic trade tariffs on hundreds of billions in goods. And Trump’s first national security strategy released last year labeled China a “revisionist power” alongside Russia.
In his remarks, Pence was to quote an assessment from the U.S. intelligence community that “China is targeting U.S., state and local governments and officials to exploit any divisions between federal and local levels on policy. It’s using wedge issues, like trade tariffs, to advance Beijing’s political influence.”
Sounding the alarm, Pence also was to warn other nations to be wary of doing business with China, condemning the Asian country’s “debt diplomacy” that allows it to draw developing nations into its orbit.
Pence was to assert that China’s actions surpass those of Russia in trying to shape American opinion.
He was to say an intelligence official had told him that what “the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country.”