The Old and the New of Pence’s Speech

Vice President Mike Pence gave a new policy speech on China Thursday. At first glance, he seemed to be singing the same old tune, with a characterization and judgment of China that was similar to that of last year’s speech. However, he expressed a rather positive stance on the improvement of China-U.S. relations, emphasizing that the U.S. doesn’t want to cut ties with China and that he hopes for a bright future between the two nations.

The speech rehashed much content from last year, accusing China once more of stealing American intellectual property, militarizing the South China Sea, oppressing religious groups, putting pressure on U.S. companies and the film and television industry, damaging American freedom of speech and more. On top of that, he also encroached on Chinese internal affairs, slandering China with respect to the Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet controversies.

One central theme of the speech was an endorsement of current U.S. policies and an emphasis on the wisdom of these tough policies toward China. That was also the focus of last year’s speech. Last year, as the U.S. approached the midterm elections, Pence’s Oct. 4 policy speech on China was clearly intended to earn votes for the Republican Party. This year’s speech is naturally intended to serve the party in the 2020 presidential election.

The big change from last year’s speech came in the last part of Pence’s remarks on Thursday, when he expressed a positive attitude toward reaching a trade agreement and improving relations with China. He said that the U.S. does not want to cut ties with China, and emphasized the personal friendship between the two countries’ leaders. He also expressed hope that the China-U.S. relationship would improve the well-being of the two nations’ citizens, and lead to a happier future.

Pence stated that the U.S. wouldn’t allow challenges to obstruct the further development of China-U.S. relations, and he emphasized that President Donald Trump supports the establishment of a trade agreement between the U.S. and China and will maintain economic and cultural exchanges. He also said that the two countries would continue to cooperate on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and on issues in the Middle East, and he believes this kind of proper relationship is crucial for both countries.

These new points differentiate Pence’s Thursday speech from last year’s. I’m afraid this is the impression that most people have. Li Haidong, a scholar on U.S.-China issues, gave an interpretation of the speech shortly after, saying that although Pence’s speech last year was suspected by many to be the declaration of a new cold war, his new speech was somewhat more moderate, as if expressing the desire to reconnect with China.

However, it should be recognized that Pence’s personal attitude toward China is marked by deep-rooted Cold War-era thinking, and this speech showed his severe prejudice toward China. He denies the rationality of China’s establishment of a political system according to its own conditions, and although he states that he doesn’t want the U.S. to cut ties with China, he simultaneously accuses China of isolating itself from the world. He used very heated language to attack China on issues like human rights, economic policy and national security, confusing people about whether his statements seeking to improve relations with China were genuine or not.

The Americans’ position toward China has always been diverse and dynamic; they use it to serve both their short-term and long-term strategies. Therefore, we still need to wait and see what path Washington will choose with China.

We believe that the strained China-U.S. relationship and the continual escalation of the trade war has hurt both countries. The U.S. can’t use tough policies to overpower China, a fact well-proven in the past y 1 1/2 years. The U.S. political elite needs to face up to the limitations of its ability to stifle China, and instead promote true easing of U.S.-China relations. Pence says that he hopes China’s desire to improve China-U.S. relations is more than empty words; we believe that statement should be directed instead at Washington.

China’s political system is different from that of the U.S., and trying to transform China politically is a dead end. But China and the U.S. have the right conditions for peaceful coexistence and profitable cooperation, so it is a real possibility. In the 21st century, different civilizations should be able to associate harmoniously, and our world should be rich and diverse; this is a universal principle, and time is on its side.

We hope that the U.S. doesn’t refuse to join China and the other countries of the world in this truly meaningful and great endeavor, and devotes its strength and wisdom to the creation of a peaceful 21st century.

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