WASHINGTON • China "wants a different American president" and is working to undermine President Donald Trump and influence US elections, Vice-President Mike Pence said yesterday, in another sign of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Mr Pence accused China of using trade, diplomatic overtures and military expansion to spread its influence around the world and to work against US interests.
"President Trump's leadership is working; China wants a different American president," Mr Pence said in a speech at the conservative Hudson Institute think-tank in Washington.
In what was billed as a major policy address, Mr Pence said: "There can be no doubt, China is meddling in America's democracy.
"Beijing has mobilised covert actors, front groups and propaganda outlets to shift Americans' perception of Chinese policies," he said.
"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."
"Our intelligence community says that China is targeting US state and local governments and officials to exploit any divisions between federal and local levels on policy. It's using wedge issues, like trade tariffs, to advance Beijing's political influence," he added.
MEDDLING IN AMERICA'S DEMOCRACY
Beijing has mobilised covert actors, front groups and propaganda outlets to shift Americans' perception of Chinese policies. 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.
UNITED STATES VICE-PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE
His remarks mark another escalation in the Trump administration's efforts to pressure China to reform its trade practices and rein in its military expansionism.
At a United Nations conference last week, Mr Trump accused Beijing of trying to influence the Nov 6 mid-term elections in retaliation for the escalating trade war. China has responded to Mr Trump's decision to levy tariffs on US$250 billion (S$345 billion) of its exports with its own tariffs on US goods.
The President did not offer evidence of interference by Beijing, though administration officials told reporters that they viewed a number of Chinese actions as tantamount to election interference.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week had rejected the charge by Mr Trump.
Mr Pence's speech amounted to a broad indictment of the methods and goals of what China insists is its peaceful rise to an economic great power. He said China is not being forthcoming about the real aims of its military expansion in the South China Sea and elsewhere, and that it was cheating and effectively extorting from US firms, while persecuting and subjugating Chinese people.
"Beijing now requires many American businesses to hand over their trade secrets as the cost of doing business in China. It also coordinates and sponsors the acquisition of American firms to gain ownership of their creations," he said.
"Worst of all, Chinese security agencies have masterminded the wholesale theft of American technology - including cutting-edge military blueprints."
Mr Pence also accused China of using relationships and "questionable loans" to Sri Lanka, Venezuela and other countries to establish far-flung areas of influence.
"Beijing has prioritised capabilities to erode America's military advantages - on land, at sea, in the air and in space. 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," he said.
Drawing applause while referring to Taiwan, he said that while the US will continue to abide by the "one China" policy that recognises Beijing's authority, "America will always believe Taiwan's embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people".
On the election interference issue, Mr Pence cited an advertising supplement purchased by Chinese state media in the Des Moines Register in Iowa as an example.
"The supplement, designed to look like news articles, casts our trade policies as reckless and harmful to Iowans," he said. "But when our ambassador tried to place his own op-ed in Chinese newspapers, describing the truth about our policies, no Chinese outlet would publish it."