Pence to Step Up U.S. Criticism of Beijing
By Michael C. Bender (Wall Street Journal)
Updated Oct. 4, 2018 2:23 a.m. ET
Vice president builds on Trump speech saying China seeks to interfere in midterm elections
WASHINGTON—Vice President Mike Pence will deliver a stinging rebuke to China in a speech scheduled for Thursday in which he will take aim at what he says are Beijing’s attempts to influence U.S. elections and global politics.
According to excerpts of the speech, Mr. Pence will build on President Trump’s remarks last week at the United Nations, where the president accused China of interfering in the coming midterm elections in an effort to derail the administration’s tough trade policies and unseat him from the White House.
Mr. Pence’s speech is a signal to Beijing that there is a limit to the bonhomie between Mr. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, administration officials said. The excerpts provided by the White House don’t describe new actions the administration will take against China but instead sketch an ominous portrait of a country seeking to expand its global influence.
“Beijing has mobilized covert actors, front groups, and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policies,” Mr. Pence will say. “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.”
Mr. Pence will say that Beijing is employing a “whole-of-government approach” to advance its influence and benefit its interests, employing its power “in more proactive and coercive ways to interfere in the domestic policies and politics of the United States.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis canceled a trip to China, and President Trump accused China of election interference. The WSJ's Gerald F. Seib explains how U.S.-China tensions are rising. Photo: Getty
The Chinese Communist Party is rewarding and coercing American businesses, movie studios, universities, think tanks, scholars, journalists and government officials, Mr. Pence will say. The goal, according to the vice president, is “an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion” in the elections this year and again in 2020 when Mr. Trump is up for re-election.
“China wants a different American president,” Mr. Pence will say.
Beijing government offices were largely closed for the National Day holiday on Thursday, and China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month disputed President Trump’s claims of election meddling. “We did not and will not interfere in any other countries’ affairs,” Mr. Wang said.
Mr. Pence’s speech comes as conflict with China increases. In addition to Mr. Trump’s criticism last week of Chinese election interference, trade tensions have been escalating between the two countries for months, and disputes have continued over territorial claims in the South China Sea, military cooperation and espionage.
The speech from the vice president, scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Hudson Institute in Washington, will do little to ease concerns that the rivalry between the two countries is threatening to turn into open confrontation.
Mr. Pence will report that the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that China is targeting state and local government and officials to exploit divisions between federal and local policy, such as tariffs. He will condemn a Beijing strategy document that stipulates China aims to “strike accurately and carefully, splitting apart different domestic groups” in the U.S.
Senior Chinese officials, Mr. Pence will say, pushed business leaders to condemn U.S. trade actions and in one instance threatened to deny a business license for a major U.S. corporation if it refused to speak out against U.S. administration policies.
Mr. Pence will condemn China’s military buildup in the South China Sea and accuse Beijing of “reckless harassment” of U.S. Navy operations in the region. “Beijing is also trying to project its power farther than ever before,” Mr. Pence will say, adding that “we will not be intimidated; we will not stand down.”
Mr. Pence will accuse China of corrupting political systems by backing candidates open to Beijing policies and using “debt diplomacy” to expand its influence, pointing to massive loans to countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America for infrastructure projects. Mr. Pence will also point to a port project in Sri Lanka that Beijing helped finance and now may become a forward military base for China’s navy.
“The terms of those loans are opaque at best, and the benefits flow overwhelmingly to Beijing,” Mr. Pence will say.
The Chinese Communist Party, Mr. Pence will say, has also persuaded three Latin American nations to sever ties with Taipei and recognize Beijing, threatening the stability of the Taiwan Strait.
“Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people,” Mr. Pence will say, while adding that the U.S. “will continue to respect” the “One China” policy that has long underpinned Sino-U.S. relations.
Beijing’s response to the U.S. accusations will hinge on how forcefully the Trump administration presses the issue, said Li Chen, an assistant professor of China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Mr. Li said Beijing is aware of the backlash against Russia following its interference in U.S. elections and said he would be surprised if China pursued a similar course. “It’s simply not wise to meddle in this,” he said, adding that it remains to be seen whether the Trump administration would present hard evidence of interference.
More broadly, he said, Mr. Pence’s speech reflects how the Trump administration’s battle with China is spreading beyond trade, dimming prospects for a quick resolution.
“There’s increasingly a consensus inside China that the ongoing tension between U.S. and China is not a short-term transitory phenomenon,” Mr. Li said. “It’s going to be a protracted process.”
—Eva Dou in Beijing contributed to this article.
Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com