WASHINGTON—Vice President Mike Pence on Oct. 24 said the Chinese communist regime curtailed “rights and liberties” in Hong Kong but also insisted that the United States does not seek confrontation or to “decouple” from its main economic rival.
Pence delivered a major policy address on China just ahead of a new round of talks aimed at resolving a months-long trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.
“No longer will America and its leaders hope that economic engagement alone will transform Communist China’s authoritarian state into a free and open society that respects private property, the rule of law, and the international rules of commerce,” he said.
Pence took the Chinese regime to task over its handling of pro-democracy protests that have rocked Hong Kong for more than four months. President Donald Trump has warned previously that it would be harder for Washington to make a trade deal with Beijing if there were violence in the former British colony.
“Hong Kong is a living example of what can happen when China embraces liberty,” he said. “And yet, for the last few years, Beijing has increased its interventions in Hong Kong and engaged in actions that curtail the rights and liberties that Hong Kong’s people were guaranteed through a binding international agreement.”
He said the United States stands with the protesters in Hong Kong.
“We stand with you, we are inspired by you. We urge you to stay on the path of non-violent protest,” Pence said.
U.S. lawmakers are pushing legislation that would put Hong Kong’s special status under tighter scrutiny.
The closely watched speech to a Washington think tank comes ahead of a new round of talks between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his counterparts on Friday and was being seen as a gauge of how tough the Trump administration is prepared to get with the Chinese regime on a wide range of issues.
Pence spoke just weeks before Trump is due to attend a summit in Chile where he has said he hopes to close a “phase one” trade deal with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Pence said that United States is “not seeking to contain China’s development.” “We want a constructive relationship with China’s leaders,” he said, calling on the Chinese regime to “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.”
Pence on Thursday sharply criticized the Chinese regime for its treatment of Muslim Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.
Earlier this month, the United States imposed visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials it believes responsible for the detention or abuse of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
U.S. authorities this month also included Chinese video surveillance firm Hikvision on a trade blacklist for its alleged role in the Uighur crackdown.
Lawmakers such as Republican Senator Marco Rubio have also slammed Chinese companies for boycotting the NBA after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey expressed solidarity with Hong Kong protesters.
Pence sharply criticized the basketball association for how it has handled the controversy.
“In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime,” Pence said.
By Alexandra Alper