October 5, 2018 – US Vice President Mike Pence raised the stakes in the ongoing dispute between the two countries when he delivered a saber-rattling speech accusing Beijing of cyber warfare, interfering with US democracy and endangering the lives of US servicemen with reckless military actions in the South China Sea.
China angrily dismissed Mr Pence’s allegations and accused him of “creating something out of thin air”, but analysts fear the speech could signal an escalation in US hostility against Beijing.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “These are unwarranted accusations against China’s domestic and foreign policies and they slandered China by claiming that China meddles in US internal affairs and elections.
“This is nothing but speaking on hearsay evidence, confusing right and wrong and creating something out of thin air. The Chinese side is firmly opposed to it.”
Mr Pence’s speech marked a hardening of attitudes towards China with relations already at rock bottom because of the bitter ongoing trade war.
Researchers from the Eurasia Group consultancy said the speech went well beyond the trade spat.
A report from the group said: “The speech is indicative of a broader shift across the US government towards a more confrontational stance towards China.”
It acknowledged Washington had been critical of aspects of Chinese policies in the past but said this was the first time a senior official had delivered a broadside against China across such an extensive array of issues.
It said: “Much of the tariff dispute centers on the US-China technology and innovation rivalry, which has a strong link to national security concerns and military competition between the two countries.
“On China’s side, the more open tone of confrontation from Mr Pence will strengthen the perception in China that the ultimate US objective in the dispute is to contain China’s rise.
“Policymakers in Beijing will be skeptical that any deal that China puts on the table short of outright surrender on core issues — will be enough to blunt this push from the US.”
Former US Federal Reserve governor Kevin Warsh described relations as “probably as poor as” it was before the Nixon administration opened up links between the world’s two biggest economic superpowers more than four decades ago.
Mr Warsh said: “We’re at the risk of a real cold war.
“The last 30 years we’ve been living and breathing globalisation as if it’s an inevitable force.”