Speaking at the sixth summit of the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore on Nov. 14, Pence’s remarks were a continuation of the Trump administration’s criticism of, for instance, China’s attempted annexation of the South China Sea, predatory trade policies, and One Belt, One Road initiative.
The vice president offered the United States’ behavior as a contrast. “In all that we do, the United States seeks collaboration, not control,” he said. “And we are proud to call ASEAN our strategic partner.”
Pence’s comments highlighted the mounting tension between Washington and Beijing ahead of the G-20 meeting later this month. President Donald Trump is set to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the G-20 in Buenos Aires; a formal, bilateral meeting is under consideration by both sides to discuss a wide range of issues, including trade.
Standing in for Trump at the Asia summit, Pence also said that the United States has taken “decisive action” to promote America’s values and vision across the region.
To meet that end, the United States is planning to “spur greater private investment” in the region’s infrastructure, a competitive alternative to Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI). The communist regime has made the initiative a centerpiece of its plans to grow its geopolitical influence.
The Trump administration has been a vocal critic of China’s ambitious international-development plan. It has been particularly concerned at how the BRI is a “debt trap” for many emerging countries in the region.
These debts are issued through a wide range of Chinese local government and state-controlled institutions. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned of the looming debt crises in the region and pointed the finger at China, calling it a “non-transparent emerging sovereign creditor.”
The United States is backing renewed investment in the Indo-Pacific, Pence said. U.S. businesses have already invested more than $1.4 trillion in the region. To back new infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere, the United States would offer $60 billion in financing, more than doubling its support.
‘China Knows Where We Stand’
The Trump administration believes progress could be made with China on trade issues at the G-20 summit. But either way, U.S. officials are confident that the United States remains in a strong position.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Pence said that the administration wouldn’t back down.
“We’re convinced China knows where we stand,” he said.
The Trump administration gave Chinese officials a long list of issues that the United States and other nations face with China. According to Pence, Beijing has to offer concessions on these issues, which include intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, restricted access to Chinese markets, and the communist regime’s interference in the politics of other countries.
If China wants to prevent a cold war with the United States and its partners, it must fundamentally change its attitude, Pence told the newspaper.
“We really believe we are in a strong position either way. We are at $250 billion [in tariffs] now; we can more than double that,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of promises. We’re looking for results. We’re looking for a change of posture.”
To end China’s “economic aggression,” the United States has levied duties on roughly $250 billion worth of Chinese goods and imposed restrictions on Chinese investments this year. Beijing has retaliated with tariffs of its own against U.S. goods.
The last round of talks ended in August as Beijing gave no indication that they were ready to meet Washington’s demands.
Chinese officials are preparing to make a series of potential concessions to the Trump administration, Bloomberg reported on Nov. 14, citing people familiar with the talks. The commitments, however, fall short of the type of key structural reforms that Trump has been demanding, according to the sources.
For instance, the reported reforms don’t include the commitment that Washington has been seeking that the Beijing regime will change industrial policies, such as the “Made in China 2025” blueprint, Bloomberg said.