Vice President Mike Pence on Monday called out China as he outlined four areas where Beijing is threatening U.S. national security.
“Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic, and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States,” Pence said Thursday, speaking at the Hudson Institute in Washington, the Daily Signal reported.
In addition to infiltrating U.S. companies and stealing intellectual property, Pence said China was also attempting to influence the coming U.S. election against Republicans who support President Trump.
Much of the American press focused on Pence’s comments about Beijing’s election meddling, but he discussed other areas where China is posing a threat:
— Cyber espionage: A report noted recently that Chinese intelligence inserted a computer chip about the size of a grain of sand into the manufacturing of equipment in China of Super Micro Computer Inc., which is a server supplier for several major companies in the United States. Beijing found “vulnerabilities in the U.S. technology supply chain to infiltrate computer networks of nearly 30 U.S. companies, including Apple and Amazon, as well as banks and federal contractors,” including the equipment used by the CIA and the International Space Station, The DS noted.
— Election interference: Pence said that China is waging an influence/information warfare campaign aimed at turning the 2018 midterms and 2020 elections against the president. “There can be no doubt: China is meddling in America’s democracy,” he said, adding that the U.S. intelligence community says that China “is targeting U.S. state and local governments and officials to exploit any divisions between federal and local levels on policy.”
“When it comes to influencing the midterms, you need only look at Beijing’s tariffs in response to ours,” Pence added. “The tariffs imposed by China to date specifically targeted industries and states that would play an important role in the 2018 election.
“By one estimate, more than 80 percent of U.S. counties targeted by China voted for President Trump and I in 2016. Now, China wants to turn these voters against our administration,” he said.
— Pressuring U.S. firms: Pence called out Google in particular for its willingness to change its business model to suit the Chinese government. “Google should immediately end development of the ‘Dragonfly’ app that will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers,” he said. He also noted that in one recent instance, Beijing threatened to deny a U.S. corporation a license for failing to speak out publicly against Trump administration policies.
The VP did say that American companies are beginning to rethink doing business in China. “As we gather here, a new consensus is rising across America. 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.
— Military build-up: Pence said China’s military focus on Asia and beyond was beginning to threaten U.S. national and global interests as well as those of our allies. “China now spends as much on its military as the rest of Asia combined, and Beijing has prioritized capabilities to erode America’s military advantages on land, at sea, in the air, and in space,” he said, adding that Beijing wants to push the U.S. out of the Indo-Pacific.
“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. But they will fail,” he said.
Analysis: Pence’s comments preceded a diplomatic visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. While there, Pompeo and his Chinese counterpart had some tense exchanges. With Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at his side, Pompeo said the two countries had “fundamental disagreements” to discuss in private.
“We have grave concerns about the actions that China has taken,” Pompeo said before reporters were escorted out of the meeting. “I look forward to having the opportunity to discuss each of those today because this is an incredibly important relationship.”
Officially, Pompeo’s mission was to push for more Chinese help in denuclearizing North Korea, but after a very close and “unsafe” incident between U.S. and Chinese warships in the South China Sea in recent days — on top of the report regarding Chinese cyber espionage (which has been ongoing for years) — it’s safe to assume those issues were on the table as well President Trump’s $250 billion worth of tariffs.
Things have certainly changed since President Xi Jinping feted President Trump in Beijing in November 2017, which included a visit to China’s Forbidden City. At the time, the meeting was hailed as a diplomatic success, though there were some who, perhaps cynically, suggested that Xi was merely playing to Trump’s ego.
Since then, Trump has proven he’s less interested in pomp and circumstance than in strengthening America’s position in the region and globally, even if that means stepping on Beijing’s toes, which China clearly isn’t used to from an American president.
That said, China has regional and global interests too, and as a revisionist power isn’t about to simply step aside and give in to the U.S. president (or to Europe or to anyone in Asia). This puts Washington and Beijing on a diplomatic collision course, for certain, and perhaps even a military collision course.
Economic and military pressure from the United States are only eliciting similar responses from China, but the alternative — doing nothing — isn’t being considered as an option for the Trump administration.
Clearly, though, the message from the Trump administration is ‘we’d rather cooperate and get along but we’re not simply going to roll over while you challenge us in international waters and steal our intellectual property.’
Diplomacy is almost always preferable to war, especially when the conflict involves two nuclear-armed powers. But the big question mark here is whether Beijing will mimic Moscow’s reactions during the Cold War and seek to influence where it can while backpedaling from the brink of an armed conflict that will benefit no one.