In a 40-minute speech delivered Oct. 24, Vice President Mike Pence criticized the communist Chinese authorities for continued violations of human rights and pernicious trade practices, while stressing America’s support for democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Speaking at the Wilson Center in Washington, the vice president expressed regret that the Chinese Communist Party’s behavior had, in the year since he gave a similarly themed address at the Hudson Institute, “become even more aggressive and destabilizing.”
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Pence also charted the actions of the Trump administration in trying to reach a trade deal that would end China’s abusive and unequal trade practices, saying: “No President before has so vigorously advanced America’s interests in our relationship with China.”
Since the beginning of the Sino-U.S. trade war last year, the United States has imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese exports, and is prepared to “place tariffs on another $300 billion of Chinese goods if significant issues in our trading relationship were not resolved by December of this year,” Pence said.
Hong Kong as a ‘living example’ for free China
The vice president called out Beijing for expanding its high-tech surveillance state, which is accompanied by the severe persecution of religion by the atheist CCP, as well as its violent efforts to suppress the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
“Millions of ethnic and religious minorities in China are struggling against the Party’s efforts to eradicate their religious and cultural identities,” Pence said. He noted that Trump had recently imposed visa restrictions on CCP officials complicit in the persecution of the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group living in China’s Xinjiang region.
“China is now exporting to countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East the very same technological tools that it uses in its authoritarian regime: tools that it’s deployed in places like Xinjiang; tools that it’s deployed often with the help of American companies,” Pence said.
Pence denounced Beijing’s suppression of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, a city he described as a “living example of what can happen when China embraces liberty.”
“Nothing in the past year has put on display the Chinese Communist Party’s antipathy to liberty so much as the unrest in Hong Kong,” he said.
Since June, when 1 million Hongkongers marched to protest a controversial extradition bill, the demonstrations have developed into a city-wide movement demanding democratic reforms in the former British colony, which was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
“Hong Kong is one of the freest economies in the world, with strong, independent legal institutions and a lively free press,” Pence said. However, “for the last few years, Beijing has increased its interventions in Hong Kong and engaged in actions to curtail the rights and liberties of its people — rights and liberties that were guaranteed through a binding international agreement of ‘one country, two systems.’”
Pence called upon Beijing to honor its 1984 agreement with the United Kingdom that it would allow Hong Kong’s Western-style rule of law and autonomy to remain in place until 2047.
“To the millions in Hong Kong who have been peacefully demonstrating to protect your rights in the past months, we stand with you, we are inspired by you, and we urge you to stay on the path of nonviolent protest,” he said.
Pence also reiterated the Trump administration’s support for Taiwan, which he had in his 2018 address praised for its “embrace of democracy.”
Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, is a self-ruled island that the CCP claims is a renegade province of the communist mainland.
“America will always believe that Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people,” Pence said, repeating the same words he had used in his speech at the Hudson Institute.
China has been turning up the pressure on the democracy in Taiwan over the past year, using checkbook diplomacy to induce two more nations to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, Pence said, referring to the Pacific nations of the Solomon Islands and Kiribati.
Though the United States, Pence said, would “continue to respect the One China Policy — as reflected in the three joint communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act,” he decried Beijing’s use of “checkbook diplomacy” to isolate Taiwan on the international stage by enticing them to switch diplomatic recognition to the mainland. “The international community must never forget that its engagement with Taiwan does not threaten the peace; it protects peace on Taiwan and throughout the region,” he said.
“And we’ve stood by Taiwan in defense of her hard-won freedoms,” Pence added. “Under this administration, we’ve authorized additional military sales and recognized Taiwan’s place as one of the world’s great trading economies and beacons of Chinese culture and democracy.”
Cooperation over confrontation
Pence chastised the Chinese regime for its lack of “significant action” to correct its abuses, while stressing that the United States under Trump would continue to push for a relationship with China based on “fairness, mutual respect, and the international rules of commerce.”
On Oct. 11, Trump announced that negations between Washington and Beijing had yielded a Phase 1 trade deal focused on Chinese purchases of American agricultural goods.
However, the vice president also observed how in May, “after months of painstaking negotiations resulted in mutual agreement on many key matters, at the last moment, China backed away — backed away from a 150-page agreement, sending both sides back to square one.”
“We will continue to negotiate in good faith with China to bring about long-overdue structural reforms in our economic relationship,” Pence said, adding that Trump “remains optimistic” about the possibility of an agreement that brings about structural change.
To this end, Pence said that America would call out Beijing for its pernicious activities, while treating China’s leaders with respect, “but also with consistency and candor.”
“No longer will America and its leaders hope that economic engagement alone will transform Communist China’s authoritarian state into a free and open society that respects private property, the rule of law, and international rules of commerce.
“America will continue to seek a better relationship with China. And as we do so, we will speak plainly, because this is a relationship that both the United States and China have to get right.”
Pence noted that China continued to steal American intellectual property, while exporting the deadly drug fentanyl to the United States, causing tens of thousands of deaths a year.
“The American people want better for the people of China. But in pursuit of that end, we must take China as it is, not as we imagine or hope it might be someday,” he said.