(CNN) — Vice President Mike Pence launched a broad attack against Beijing Thursday, accusing China of “predatory” economic practices, military aggression against the US and of trying to undermine President Donald Trump and harm his chances of winning re-election.
Citing Trump’s move to levy tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports and threatening to “levy even more, with the possibility of substantially more than doubling that number,” Pence said that “the American people deserve to know that, in response to the strong stand that President Trump has taken, Beijing is pursuing a comprehensive and coordinated campaign to undermine support for the President.”
The vice president cited US intelligence agencies but offered no evidence to back up his claims, which are likely to inflame relations between Washington and Beijing, already at their lowest point in years thanks to the burgeoning trade war, policy differences and US allegations of political interference.
‘To put it bluntly’
“To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working. China wants a different American President,” Pence said.
The intervention by the vice president marks a significant broadening in the rhetoric used by the Trump administration to confront China, linking issues around military, trade and domestic politics.
Pence accused the Chinese of suppressing its citizens at home with the creation of “an unparalleled surveillance state,” of brutally repressing religious minorities and of oppressing countries abroad through loan programs that favor Beijing and leave those nations beholden to China.
The vice president said that Chinese security agencies have masterminded “the wholesale theft of American technology” and that Beijing works to steal US intellectual property, leading to a “new consensus” among US businesses about investing there.
Pence called on one firm in particular to stop cooperating with China. Google, Pence said, “should immediately end development of the ‘Dragonfly’ app that will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers,” he said.
“Worst of all, China has initiated an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections,” Pence said.
The speech, which will likely strain relations further, came days after a Chinese military vessel nearly collided with a US Navy ship in the waters around the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Pence described the encounter in which a Chinese naval vessel came within 45 yards (41 meters) of the USS Decatur as “reckless harassment,” and repeated a US refrain: that 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.”
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian defended the naval maneuver on Tuesday, accusing the US of threatening China’s sovereignty and safety by repeatedly sending warships to disputed areas of the South China Sea.
“The Chinese military will resolutely perform its defense duties and continue to take all necessary measures to safeguard our sovereignty and the regional peace and stability,” Wu said.
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