Former Vice President Mike Pence called on the Biden administration to take a harder line toward China in a major foreign policy speech on Wednesday — claiming that he and former President Donald Trump had “changed the national consensus” on the threat posed by Beijing.
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation headquarters in Washington, D.C., Pence declared that millions of Americans were “awake to the fact that the Chinese Communist Party aspires not merely to join the community of economically developed nations, but to sit atop a new global order created in its own image.”
“Yet despite this new national consensus,” Pence said, “the Biden-Harris administration is already rolling over to communist China.”
Pence specifically cited the president’s moves to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization, as well as the reported shuttering of a secretive Trump-era State Department probe that sought to prove the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab. Biden has since opened his own inquiry into the pandemic’s origins.
“There’s an old saying that weakness arouses evil. And my sense is that China senses weakness in this administration,” Pence said.
In a roughly half-hour address, the former vice president proceeded to lay out a series of “urgent steps” he insisted Biden take toward China — including demanding that Beijing “come clean” about how Covid-19 first spread, ensuring the U.S. was “fully prepared” for future pandemics and accelerating efforts “to decouple the American economy from China” in critical U.S. industries.
Pence also said Biden should “strengthen the ties of economic commerce” with Taiwan by striking a trade agreement with the island nation, which China views as part of its territory. In fact, Biden officials last month held the first trade talks between the U.S. and Taiwan since 2016.
As for Biden’s Pentagon, Pence said the U.S. “must significantly increase the readiness” of its Navy and scolded “the military brass” for “wasting time on politically correct nonsense like critical race theory.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told congressional lawmakers last month that the military does not teach or embrace the theory.
Finally, Pence warned Biden against issuing H-1B visas to Chinese nationals working for U.S. technology companies, and he said the White House should request that the 2022 Winter Olympics be relocated from Beijing — unless China reveals more about the origins of the coronavirus and ends its persecution of ethnic Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
“The American people recognize today what our administration brought to the fore,” Pence said. “The Chinese Communist Party is the greatest threat to our prosperity, security and values on the face of the Earth.”
The remarks from Pence — who joined the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank, as a distinguished visiting fellow in February — came in the form of the foundation’s annual B.C. Lee Lecture on international affairs, which focuses on the U.S. relationship with the Indo-Pacific.
But from a broader political perspective, Pence's address could be interpreted as a Republican counterpoint to Biden’s foreign policy in the region — ahead of midterm elections next year and a White House race in 2024 that are likely to see China emerge as the most contentious point of diplomacy.
Since the outset of his administration, Biden has sought to pivot U.S. foreign policy away from decades-long quagmires in the Middle East and toward the more recent threats from China and Russia.
That diplomatic reprioritization is reflected in the makeup of Biden’s National Security Council, which now features a diminished team focused on the Middle East portfolio and increased staffing on the unit devoted to coordinating policy for the Indo-Pacific region.
But the most recent high-level engagement between Washington and Beijing — which took place in Alaska in March — ended in acrimony, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken assessing that “there are a number of areas where we are fundamentally at odds.”
The global threat of an aggressive, rising China — as well as Beijing’s human rights abuses — were frequent topics of discussion on Biden’s first foreign trip as president last month, when he met with American allies in the Group of Seven, NATO and the European Union.
In another sign of the administration’s confrontational posture, Biden on Sunday upheld Trump’s rejection of nearly all of China’s significant maritime claims in the South China Sea and warned Beijing against attacking the Philippines.
In addition, the Pentagon is considering establishing a permanent naval task force in the Pacific and creating a named military operation for the region that would allow the Defense secretary to allocate funding and resources to countering China.
But the president’s plans for economic engagement with Asia still remain unclear. Biden is unlikely to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump pulled the U.S. out of in 2017, and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has largely focused on enforcing existing trade agreements.
Following Biden’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva last month, White House officials floated the possibility of a similar face-to-face meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this year.
Administration officials have become increasingly concerned about the strengthening relationship between China and Russia, which has become a prominent point of consideration among American strategists calculating U.S. foreign policy toward Beijing.
On Friday, Biden will participate virtually in the annual meeting of world leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation — an economic forum consisting of 21 countries in the Pacific Rim.
According to a statement from White House press secretary Jen Psaki, Biden’s participation “will demonstrate U.S. leadership in the Indo-Pacific region and the President’s commitment to multilateral institutions.”
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