China accused US Vice President Mike Pence of slandering the country with "baseless" allegations Friday, after he delivered a scathing speech in Washington claiming Beijing was trying to covertly influence US politics for its own political gain.
Pence launched his full-throated attack in a speech to the Hudson Institute, accusing China of everything from predatory economic practices to military aggression to advance Chinese interests at the expense of the current world order.
"Beijing is pursuing a comprehensive and coordinated campaign to undermine support for the President," Pence said. The vice president cited US intelligence agencies but offered little evidence to back up his claims.
Beijing quickly responded in a statement Friday, accusing Pence of "malicious slander" and urging the US to "correct its wrongdoing."
"This is nothing but speaking on hearsay evidence, confusing right and wrong and creating something out of thin air," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in the statement.
"We are committed to joining hands with the US to work for non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation."
A senior official in the Trump administration official told reporters that Pence's speech reflects a US decision to take a more assertive approach in dealing with China that is more "constructive and results oriented."
The official said the re-evaluation came after China failed to respond as expected to the offer of greater political engagement by improving human rights and relaxing restrictions on markets and intellectual property.
The Trump administration is planning to release a report Friday that accuses China of seeking to undermine the US industrial base, and of posing a risk to the supply of materials and components for the US military.
Expanding China influence in the US
In his speech, Pence portrayed China as a country determined to use all the tools at its disposal, linking issues around military, trade and domestic politics, to counter current US policy.
"As we speak, Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic, and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States," he said.
Relations between Washington and Beijing have soured precipitously in recent months in large part due to military tensions and a trade war between the two countries.
President Donald Trump has moved to levy tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports, part of an effort to negotiate new trading terms between the world's two largest economies. China has enacted its own tariffs on US goods in response.
"We don't want China's markets to suffer. In fact, we want them to thrive. But the United States wants Beijing to pursue trade policies that are free, fair, and reciprocal," Pence said.
"Sadly, China's rulers have refused to take that path -- so far."
While Pence and President Donald Trump have been publicly critical of China, Pence's broadside Thursday was unprecedented in that he portrayed the United States and China as two countries locked in an inevitable direct competition with each other.
Analysts say that Chinese leaders have long feared that Washington policy in the Asia Pacific region was designed to box in China and contain its rise, and believe that Pence's speech is likely to fuel those concerns.
'A better path'
The vice president's speech also touched on the sensitive topic of Taiwan, which Beijing considers an integral part of its territory despite the island being self-governed for almost 70 years.
Under the "One China Policy," Washington officially recognized Beijing and removed its embassy from Taiwan, though it continues to regard the sovereignty status of the island as unresolved.
Pence said Thursday that "while our administration will continue to respect our One China Policy ... Taiwan's embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people."
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen responded to Pence's comments Friday by tweeting her thanks.
"I thank @VP @mike_pence for recognizing #Taiwan's democratization achievements & the importance of stability in the Taiwan Strait. Working together with the #US, we look forward to the continued promotion of peace & stability in the region," she posted on Twitter.