Washington | US Vice President Mike Pence has dramatically turned up the heat on China, accusing it of meddling in the November midterm elections and aggressively turning “plowshares into swords on a massive scale”.
In an inflammatory speech that immediately drew condemnation from Beijing, Mr Pence detailed a litany of abuse by the Chinese Communist Party against its own citizens and the creation of an “unparalleled surveillance state” as well as religious repression against minorities.
The lashing comes as tensions on both sides of the Pacific are escalating, with President Donald Trump slamming China last week for seeking his political ouster and a report by Bloomberg News showing spies tapped almost 30 major US companies including Amazon and Apple by hiding tiny chips into critical network servers.
Mr Pence’s verbal assault buttresses the Trump administration’s economic strategy against its Asian rival, which has included slapping tariffs on more than US$250 billion of Chinese imports to the US so far this year.
“Across the nation, the American people are growing in vigilance” against Chinese interference, Mr Pence said.
In a review of America’s relationship with China over the past 100 years – including a reference to the “century of humiliation” that Mr Pence prefaced as “so-called” – the vice president pitched the US as a long-time supporter of Beijing’s emergence.
That has swung from cooperation to abuse, Mr Pence suggested, saying China has directed its bureaucrats and businesses to steal American intellectual property, “the foundation of our economic leadership – by any means necessary”.
“The Chinese Communist Party has also used an arsenal of policies inconsistent with free and fair trade, including tariffs, quotas, currency manipulation, forced technology transfer, intellectual property theft, and industrial subsidies doled out like candy, to name a few.
“These policies have built Beijing’s manufacturing base, at the expense of its competitors – especially America.”
Criticism of China on economic grounds is seen by the Trump administration as a powerful motivator for its Republican base as the November elections approach.
Mr Pence also attacked China’s failure to follow a western path from economic development towards greater political freedoms – a statement that is particularly inflammatory from the Chinese perspective which sees such assumptions as insular and arrogant.
“America had hoped that economic liberalisation would bring China into greater partnership with us and with the world.
“Instead, China has chosen economic aggression, which has in turn emboldened its growing military.
“Nor, as we hoped, has Beijing moved toward greater freedom for its people.”
In a direct shot at President Xi Jinping, Mr Pence lamented that after a period of improvement, China’s human rights record has deteriorated in recent years.
“For a time, Beijing inched toward greater liberty and respect for human rights, but in recent years, it has taken a sharp U-turn toward control and oppression.
“Today, China has built an unparalleled surveillance state, and it’s growing more expansive and intrusive – often with the help of US technology.”
On economic exploitation, Mr Pence detailed how American businesses are compelled to hand over trade secrets as a cost of doing business in China.
“It also coordinates and sponsors the acquisition of American firms to gain ownership of their creations.
“Worst of all, Chinese security agencies have masterminded the wholesale theft of American technology – including cutting-edge military blueprints.
“And using that stolen technology, the Chinese Communist Party is turning plowshares into swords on a massive scale.”
Finally, he said China spends as much on its military as the rest of Asia combined, and has prioritised eroding America’s military advantages on land, sea, air and in space.
“China wants nothing less than to push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies.”