On October 4th, US vice-president Mike Pence accused China of attempting to meddle in the November midterm elections, through propaganda and influence operations. According to him China is attempting to harm voters’ perception of US President Donald Trump.
This follows Trump’s accusations during the UN Security Council’s meeting on nuclear proliferation. As the start of his address, he began by accusing China of planning to meddle in the upcoming elections, without providing any facts to back his claims.
Mike Pence claimed that China was even more aggressive than Russia in interfering in US democracy.
“Beijing has mobilised covert actors, front groups and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policies,” Mr Pence said on Thursday in a speech at the Hudson Institute. “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.”
In response, China’s foreign ministry said the speech was “speaking on hearsay evidence, confusing right and wrong and creating something out of thin air”. It urged the US “to correct its wrongdoing, stop groundlessly accusing and slandering China and harming China’s interests and China-US ties.”
Pence also said that the Trump administration was taking a more assertive stance towards China to counter its activities in all areas, including trade and economics to foreign policy and maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
“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,” the US vice-president said.
According to Pence, China uses various means to obtain US intellectual property, including forcing American companies to hand over trade secrets, and said Chinese security agencies were orchestrating the theft of cutting-edge US military blueprints.
“Using that stolen technology, the Chinese Communist party is turning ploughshares into swords on a massive scale,” he said.
Evan Medeiros, a former top White House Asia adviser to Barack Obama, said the speech marked a “turning point” in US policy towards China, and “not for the better.”
“It dangerously frames this as an ideological competition — in addition to the geopolitical one — but offers no framework for managing any of this,” said Mr Medeiros.
“China poses many challenges and threats to US interests, but the key questions is, what do we do about it? How do we manage deep economic interdependence with strategic competition? That’s the real challenge. Pence offered no solution.”
The Financial Times, earlier in 2018 reported that the Trump Administration had considered banning all Chinese nationals from studying in the US, however the proposal was successfully opposed.
While Mr Pence took Beijing to task for its economic, political and military aggression, he said a “new consensus is rising across America” about the need to push back. He mentioned Google by name, saying that companies should not cave in to pressure.
“More business leaders are thinking beyond the next quarter, and thinking twice before diving into the Chinese market if it means turning over their intellectual property or abetting Beijing’s oppression,” he said. “But more must follow suit …Google should immediately end development of the ‘Dragonfly’ app that will strengthen Communist party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”
Pence claimed that China was using a “whole-of-government approach” to boost its influence and was using it “in more proactive and coercive ways to interfere in the domestic policies and politics of the United States”.
According to him Trump’s leadership was working and China would like a different US president.
Pence said US intelligence thought China was “targeting US state and local governments and officials to exploit any divisions between federal and local levels on policy” and “using wedge issues, like trade tariffs, to advance Beijing’s political influence.”
Pence gave examples of the “proactive and coercive ways” China is interfering. They included the Chinese Communist Party rewarding American businesses, movie studies, etc. Senior Chinese officials have attempted to influence business leaders to condemn US trade actions by “leveraging their desire to maintain their operations in China.” According to him, Beijing compelled Delta Airlines to publicly apologize for not calling Taiwan a “province of China” on its website. He also further claimed that Beijing censors US movies that criticize China. China provides money to U.S. universities, think tanks and scholars with the understanding that they will avoid ideas that the Communist Party finds offensive.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton said that much of what the US knows about Chinese activities in the country remains classified.
It would be interesting and not at all surprising, however, if following the midterm elections in November there is a “Chinese probe,” in addition to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “Russian probe.”