U.S. Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech on the “future of the U.S.-China relationship.”
He made a similar speech on China a year ago. That speech was perceived as a signal indicating the U.S. and China had entered a “new cold war.”
In his recent remarks, he again urged China to redress problems, such as its pursuit of external hegemonic interests, intellectual property theft and oppression of human rights. With regards to Hong Kong, he expressed his support for protesters and warned Chinese authorities against using force.
His speech suggests that over the past year China has become emboldened in its aggressive moves to challenge the existing global order. The vice president deserves credit for indicating a firm stance on China even in the middle of trade negotiations between the two nations.
His mention of the Senkaku Islands was particularly worthy of attention.
Vice President Pence noted that the Senkakus are “administered by Japan” and that for “more than 60 days in a row” China’s Coast Guard has sent ships into the surrounding waters. He pointed out that the number of ASDF scrambles in response to Chinese military planes’ potential violation of Japan’s airspace above the East China Sea will likely set a record this year. He lambasted China for escalating its provocations against Japan, a “close ally of the U.S.”
These are issues that should rightly have been first raised by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Trump administration is developing a sense of wariness toward China whereas Japan is trying to build rapport with Beijing. Concerns within the U.S. must have prompted the vice president to refer to the Senkakus in his remarks.
China’s incursions into Japanese territory and provocations against Japan are glaring. But these are not the only flagrant actions by China. In September a male Hokkaido University professor was detained by Chinese authorities. China never ceases to commit illegitimate acts against Japan.
Nonetheless Prime Minister Abe stresses that the Japan-China relationship is “back on track” and announced Japan’s support for China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which in his remarks Vice President Pence criticized as an economic bloc for “military’ purposes. Japan does not want to create trouble before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Japan as a state guest next spring.
On the issue of Hong Kong, Prime Minister Abe conveyed Japan’s “grave concern” to Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan when he was in Tokyo. On the other hand, Vice President Pence articulated that the U.S. stands with Hong Kong’s demonstrators by stressing “we are inspired by you.” His emphasis on U.S. solidarity with the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan, who are trying to protect the common values of freedom and democracy, makes for an ironic contrast with a Japanese diplomacy currying favor with China.
Japan’s conciliatory approach with China is 180 degrees the opposite of the sense of crisis awareness among the U.S. administration. Prime Minister Abe must acknowledge “Vice President Pence’s speech” as a message to himself.