U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday described an envisaged trade deal with Japan as a “free trade agreement,” contradicting Tokyo’s assertion that the bilateral accord sought by the two governments will not be as comprehensive as an FTA.
“We’re forging new trade deals, on a bilateral basis, just as last week, President Trump signed an improved trade deal with South Korea, and we will soon begin negotiating a historic bilateral free trade agreement with Japan,” Pence said in an address in Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed in a meeting last week in New York to start negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement on goods, or TAG. The move is a concession by Tokyo, which dropped its earlier insistence on a multilateral approach to trade issues.
Speaking at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank, Pence also condemned China’s militarization of the disputed South China Sea and its attempt to undermine Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Pence criticized Beijing’s military buildup and its attempts to alter the regional status quo, saying the country “now spends as much on its military as the rest of Asia combined, and Beijing has prioritized capabilities to erode America’s military advantages — on land, at sea, in the air, and in space.”
“China wants nothing less than to push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies,” he said.
Pence pointed to routine patrols by Chinese ships around the Senkaku Islands, “which are administered by Japan.”
In response to what he called China’s “debt diplomacy,” Pence said he will unveil new measures and programs to support a free and open Indo-Pacific when he attends two regional summits in November in lieu of Trump.
“On behalf of the president, I will deliver the message that America’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific has never been stronger,” he said of his planned attendance at Association of Southeast Asian Nations-related summits in Singapore and a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea.
Pence’s rebuke over debt diplomacy was apparently aimed at President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, a multibillion-dollar cross-border infrastructure project likely to draw countries deeper into China’s economic orbit.
“Today, that country is offering hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure loans to governments from Asia to Africa to Europe to even Latin America,” he said. “Yet the terms of those loans are opaque at best, and the benefits invariably flow overwhelmingly to Beijing.”
As a countermeasure, Pence said the United States is “streamlining international development and finance programs, giving foreign nations a just and transparent alternative to China’s debt-trap diplomacy.”
Citing China’s massive and chronic trade surplus with the United States and Beijing’s trade practices such as forced technology transfer, Pence demanded that Beijing “pursue trade policies that are free, fair, and reciprocal,” or Washington will continue to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports.
“We will continue to take action until Beijing ends the theft of American intellectual property, and stops the predatory practice of forced technology transfer,” he said.
He also pushed China to “break down its barriers” and “fully open its economy, just as we have opened ours.”
The U.S. vice president accused China of interfering in American politics and democracy as well as undermining Trump ahead of November’s midterm elections as the world’s two largest economies have escalated a trade war.
China has initiated “an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion” in the run-up to the midterm elections and with the 2020 presidential election in sight, according to Pence.
“Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach to advance its influence and benefit its interests. It’s employing this power in more proactive and coercive ways to interfere in the domestic policies and politics of the United States,” he said.
“To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working; and China wants a different American president,” he added.