Pence warns of aggressive China, wants end to unfair trade practices

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday warned that China has become “even more aggressive and destabilizing” over the past year, while expressing a desire to end what Washington sees as unfair trade practices by the world’s second largest economy.

In a speech at a Washington think tank, Pence criticized China on a range of issues, including its actions to “curtail” the rights of Hong Kong residents amid protest movements, its military assertiveness in the East and South China seas, and its failure to take sufficient steps to address the bilateral trade standoff.

“Beijing has still not taken significant action to improve our economic relationship. And on many other issues…Beijing’s behavior has become even more aggressive and destabilizing,” he said.

But Pence noted that the United States is not seeking to contain China’s development nor “decouple” from China, and that it wants a “constructive relationship” with the country’s leaders.

“We seek a level playing field, open markets, fair trade and a respect for our values,” he said. “And if China will step forward and seize this unique moment in history to start anew by ending the trade practices that have taken advantage of the American people for far too long, I know President Donald Trump is ready and willing to begin that new future.”

Pence’s speech on the future of U.S.-China relations came at a rather sensitive time as the United States is moving to formalize a “phase one” trade deal agreed with China earlier this month, a potential step in resolving a tit-for-tat tariff war that has continued for more than a year.

Trump is eager to sign the bilateral deal, possibly during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a regional economic meeting to be held in Chile in mid-November.

Under the deal, the United States agreed to suspend a tariff hike on Chinese goods that was planned in October in exchange for Beijing’s offering to make large agricultural purchases and apparent willingness to engage on intellectual property issues.

But the deal only partially addresses Washington’s demands to seek structural changes in the Chinese economy, such as halting forced technology transfers and Chinese subsidies that allegedly put foreign firms at a disadvantage.

“President Trump believes that China wants to make a deal. He remains optimistic that not only can we complete phase one, but that we can move on to the structural issues,” Pence said.

Touching on security issues, Pence condemned China’s militarization of the disputed South China Sea and its attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands, a group of East China Sea islets claimed by Beijing and Taiwan.

“China’s Coast Guard has sent ships for more than 60 days in a row into the waters around the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan,” he said, adding that Japan is also on track this year to scramble its fighter jets for more sorties in the East China Sea in response to Chinese provocations than in any previous year.

On the social unrest in Hong Kong stemming from a now-scrapped extradition bill, Pence said Beijing has “increased its interventions in Hong Kong and engaged in actions to curtail the rights and liberties of its people” even though those rights were guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” arrangement that has been in place since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

“The United States will continue to urge China to show restraint, to honor its commitments, and respect the people of Hong Kong. And to the millions in Hong Kong who have been peacefully demonstrating to protect your rights these past months, we stand with you,” he said.

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