uoting Lu Xun, ancient Chinese proverbs, and Donald Trump, US Vice President Mike Pence delivered a wide-ranging speech about China on Thursday in which he accused the Chinese government of trying to interfere with US elections in order to oust Trump from office.
“China has initiated an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections… What the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country,” Pence said in his speech at the Hudson Institute, a Washington thinktank, claiming that he was quoting what a senior intelligence official had told him.
According to Pence, Beijing is extremely eager to get rid of Trump because he is the first American president to ever stand up to them on trade. “Beijing is pursuing a comprehensive and coordinated campaign to undermine support for the President, our agenda, and our nation’s most cherished ideals,” Pence declared. “To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working; and China wants a different American President.”
In his speech, Pence claimed that Beijing was “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” by “targeting U.S. state and local governments and officials to exploit any divisions between federal and local levels on policy.”
However, Pence failed to actually provide any evidence that China was really directly meddling in US elections, particularly in an effort to hurt Trump. Instead, the vice president primarily referenced propaganda efforts in the US made by Chinese state media outlets and retaliatory tariffs that Beijing instituted which seriously harm American farmers, an important part of Trump’s base.
I’m sorry, but China calling attention to issues that Americans disagree about, and making its case, is not “election meddling”. China does bad things, but openly courting state and local concerns is not one of them. https://t.co/g0sZPhEhuP
— Patrick Chovanec (@prchovanec) October 4, 2018
In this, Pence’s well-rehearsed rhetoric echoes that of Trump’s own ramblings to the United Nations last week.
“Regrettably, we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election coming up in November against my administration,” Trump said while presiding over a Security Council meeting on the non-proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. “They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade. And we are winning on trade. We are winning at every level.”
When asked later at a subsequent press conference for specific evidence of Chinese election interference, Trump said: “We have [it]. It will come out. Yeah, I can’t tell you now,” before going on to brag that China has “total respect” for his “very, very large, uh, brain.”
While China’s propaganda and lobbying efforts in the US are certainly significant and impactful, most cybersecurity experts say that China focuses on industrial and economic espionage rather than political attacks on the order of, say, Russia, a country which the Trump administration has failed to call out nearly so forcefully as Pence did China today.
In fact, at a conference on Tuesday, the administration’s own secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, said that: “We currently have no indication that a foreign adversary intends to disrupt our election infrastructure.
“We know they [the Chinese] have the capability and we know they have the will,” Nielsen continued. “So we’re constantly on alert to watch. But what we see with China right now are the influence campaigns, the more traditional, long-standing, holistic influence campaigns.”
After watching Pence’s speech, reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, an expert in the field of Chinese influence in the US, said that, according to her own reporting, what Pence said about China attempting to influence elections at local and state levels is true, but that the vice president’s claim that Beijing is specifically aiming for Trump’s downfall “does not hold water.”
Btw, while I have seen significant evidence that Beijing is making attempts to influence election results in the US, I have NOT seen anything to support Pence's claim that Chinese election meddling is aimed at harming Trump specifically. That claim, to me, does not hold water.
— B. Allen-Ebrahimian (@BethanyAllenEbr) October 4, 2018
However, overall, Pence’s speech showed much more attention to detail and familiarity with recent reporting on China than you might expect from the Trump administration. Below are some interesting excerpts:
Pence on the “China Fantasy“:
After the fall of the Soviet Union, we assumed that a free China was inevitable. Heady with optimism, at the turn of the 21st Century, America agreed to give Beijing open access to our economy, and bring China into the World Trade Organization.
Previous administrations made this choice in the hope that freedom in China would expand in all forms – not just economically, but politically, with a newfound respect for classical liberal principles, private property, religious freedom, and the entire family of human rights… but that hope has gone unfulfilled.
The dream of freedom remains distant for the Chinese people. And while Beijing still pays lip service to “reform and opening,” Deng Xiaoping’s famous policy now rings hollow.
Pence on tensions in the South China Sea:
Beijing is also using its power like never before. Chinese ships routinely patrol around the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan. And while China’s leader stood in the Rose Garden of the White House in 2015 and said that his country had “no intention to militarize the South China Sea,” today, Beijing has deployed advanced anti-ship and anti-air missiles atop an archipelago of military bases constructed on artificial islands.
China’s aggression was on display this week, when a Chinese naval vessel came within 45 yards of theUSSDecatur as it conducted freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, forcing our ship to quickly maneuver to avoid collision. Despite such reckless harassment, 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.
Pence on religious persecution and Xinjiang:
And when it comes to religious freedom, a new wave of persecution is crashing down on Chinese Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims…
Last month, Beijing shut down one of China’s largest underground churches. Across the country, authorities are tearing down crosses, burning bibles, and imprisoning believers. And Beijing has now reached a deal with the Vatican that gives the avowedly atheist Communist Party a direct role in appointing Catholic bishops. For China’s Christians, these are desperate times.
Beijing is also cracking down on Buddhism. Over the past decade, more than 150 Tibetan Buddhist monks have lit themselves on fire to protest China’s repression of their beliefs and culture. And in Xinjiang, the Communist Party has imprisoned as many as one million Muslim Uyghurs in government camps where they endure around-the-clock brainwashing. Survivors of the camps have described their experiences as a deliberate attempt by Beijing to strangle Uyghur culture and stamp out the Muslim faith.
Pence on “debt diplomacy“:
China uses so-called “debt diplomacy” to expand its influence.Today, that country is offering hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure loans to governments from Asia to Africa to Europe to even Latin America. Yet the terms of those loans are opaque at best, and the benefits flow overwhelmingly to Beijing.
Just ask Sri Lanka, which took on massive debt to let Chinese state companies build a port with questionable commercial value. Two years ago, that country could no longer afford its payments – so Beijing pressured Sri Lanka to deliver the new port directly into Chinese hands. It may soon become a forward military base for China’s growing blue-water navy.
Pence on Chinese pressure on businesses and Hollywood:
Chinese authorities have also threatened U.S. companies that depict Taiwan as a distinct geographic entity, or that stray from Chinese policy on Tibet. Beijing compelled Delta Airlines to publicly apologize for not calling Taiwan a “province of China” on its website. It also pressured Marriott to fire a U.S. employee who liked a tweet about Tibet.
Beijing routinely demands that Hollywood portray China in a strictly positive light, and it punishes studios and producers that don’t. Beijing’s censors are quick to edit or outlaw movies that criticize China, even in minor ways. “World War Z” had to cut the script’s mention of a virus originating in China. “Red Dawn” was digitally edited to make the villains North Korean, not Chinese.
Pence on Chinese pressure at American universities:
Look no further than the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations, of which there are more than 150 branches across American campuses. These groups help organize social events for some of the more than 430,000 Chinese nationals studying in the United States; they also alert Chinese consulates and embassies when Chinese students, and American schools, stray from the Communist Party line.
At the University of Maryland, a Chinese student recently spoke at her graduation ceremony of what she called the “fresh air of free speech” in America. The Communist Party’s official newspaper swiftly chastised her, she became the victim of a firestorm of criticism on China’s tightly-controlled social media,and her family back home was harassed. As for the university itself, its exchange program with China – one of the nation’s most extensive – suddenly turned from a flood to a trickle.
Pence calling out Google:
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. But more must follow suit. For example, Google should immediately end development of the “Dragonfly” app that will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers…
If you somehow still want more Pence, you can read the full transcript of his speech hereor watch it below: