On 4 October 2018, US Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington DC. In unusually pointed remarks, Pence laid out a comprehensive list of complaints about Chinese behaviour. According to the Vice President, ‘Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence’ at the expense of the US and the international order.
The charge sheet was extensive. While previous administrations gave ‘Beijing open access to [the American] economy and brought China into the World Trade Organization’ (WTO) in the hope that political freedom and economic liberalisation would advance, that ‘hope has gone unfulfilled … and Deng Xiaoping’s famous policy [of reform and opening] now rings hollow.’
In addition to directly challenging America strategically and undermining the American role in upholding the international rules-based order that’s been cobbled together since the end of World War II, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ‘has also used an arsenal of policies inconsistent with free and fair trade … to build Beijing’s manufacturing base, at the expense of competitors— especially America’. This includes tariffs, quotas, currency manipulation, forced technology transfer, intellectual property (IP) theft and industrial subsidies—the extent of which has been well documented—occurring at a scale unmatched by any postwar economy and constitutes a violation of WTO and other treaties. Such ‘wholesale theft of American technology’ is especially grievous, as it’s being used by Beijing, according to Pence, to turn ‘plowshares into swords on a massive scale’.
Moreover, China is misusing its economic size and weight in the form of ‘debt diplomacy’ to extend ill-gotten leverage over smaller countries and to ‘exert influence and interfere in the domestic policy and politics of [the US]’. In a scathing assessment, Pence argued that ‘previous administrations all but ignored China’s actions—and in many cases, they abetted them’. Then he offered the main point of the speech, which was to declare: ‘But those days are over.’
To be sure, the individual complaints made against China weren’t new. More broadly, the George W Bush administration initially characterised China as a rising challenger and ‘strategic competitor’ before taking the softer line of urging Beijing to become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in the international system under American leadership. Barack Obama’s ‘pivot’ to Asia recognised China as a rival, and concerns about Chinese trade practices and IP theft preceded the Donald Trump administration.SI 136 The end of Chimerica
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