Vice President Mike Pence slammed the Chinese regime for curtailing “rights and liberties” in the city of Hong Kong, during a major policy address on Oct. 24, while reaffirming U.S. commitment to standing up for those values.
In a roughly 40-minute speech on the future of U.S.–China relations, Pence reprimanded Beijing for its unethical trade practices and human rights abuses, but noted that the United States would push for a cooperative relationship with China based on “fairness, mutual respect, and the international rules of commerce.”
“Nothing in the past year has put on display the Chinese Communist Party’s antipathy to liberty so much as the unrest in Hong Kong,” Pence said at the Wilson Center in Washington.
“Hong Kong is a living example of what can happen when China embraces liberty,” Pence said, while noting the city’s status as an international financial hub, its legal institutions, and “lively free press,” are things that people in mainland China do not enjoy.
“And yet, for the last few years, Beijing has increased its interventions in Hong Kong,” Pence said. The territory reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997, with the express guarantee that its autonomy and freedoms be preserved.
He said that the United States supports the protesters in their fight for liberty. President Donald Trump has previously warned Beijing that a trade deal would be more difficult if Beijing decided to take a hard line and violently suppress the ongoing protests, he added.
“To the millions in Hong Kong who have been peacefully demonstrating to protect your rights in the past months, we stand with you, we are inspired by you, and we urge you to stay on the path of nonviolent protest,” he said.
Pence made the remarks as the two economic superpowers are working on a new round of trade negotiations. On Oct. 11, Trump announced that the two sides had reached a partial deal on intellectual property, financial services, and agriculture.
Pence said that the United States does not seek to “de-couple” from China, but rather seeks a level playing field.
He said that the new phase one agreement could be signed “as soon as the APEC Summit in Chile,” scheduled on Nov. 16 to 17, but that “a whole range of structural and significant issues”—China’s intellectual property theft, state-directed hacking operations, and exporting of fentanyl and other deadly opioids—”also must be addressed.”
“The American people want better for the people of China. But in pursuit of that end, we must take China as it is, not as we imagine or hope it might be someday,” he said.
He said the Chinese Communist Party was “de-coupling” itself from the free world with its oppressive practices, from its persecution of religious believers to internet censorship and military aggression in the South China Sea.
Commitment to American Values
Pence also scolded American corporations for falling for China’s money, allowing its “muzzling [of] affirmative expressions of American values.”
Nike stores in China pulled Houston Rockets products from their shelves after the sports team’s general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a seven-word tweet: “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” a popular slogan expressing solidarity with Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, who oppose the Chinese regime’s encroachment in the city’s affairs. The tweet has ignited a political firestorm in mainland China, where state media have painted the protests as a separatist movement fomented by foreign countries.
“Nike promotes itself as a so-called ‘social justice champion,’ but when it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social conscience at the door,” Pence said.
He then criticized star players, team owners, and the National Basketball Association (NBA) for toeing Beijing’s line. Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta sought to distance the team from Morey’s tweet in a public statement, while Rockets player James Harden apologized to China. Lebron James of the L.A. Lakers criticized Morey for the tweet.
“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.
He added that Beijing’s pressure amounted to exporting censorship in order to shape American public opinion. “It’s not just wrong, it’s un-American,” Pence said.
He then urged American corporations to “stand up for American values here at home and around the world.”
In the same light, Pence also reaffirmed the United States’ support for Taiwan and the island’s “hard-won freedoms” in the face of Beijing’s increased intimidation. Over the past year, Beijing has pressured two of Taiwan’s Pacific nation allies into switching ties.
Pence called Beijing’s moves “checkbook diplomacy,” and said the U.S. administration would continue to sell arms for Taiwan’s self-defense.
He also stressed that American values such as individual liberty and freedom of religion stemmed from the nation’s founding and will continue to serve the country’s global interests.
“America is reaching out our hand to China. And we hope that, soon, Beijing will reach back, this time with deeds, not words, and with renewed respect for America,” he said.