By Clay Chandler and Eamon Barrett
October 6, 2018

Vice President Pence’s speech to the Hudson Institute Thursday has been widely portrayed in the global press as an official declaration that the world’s two largest economies are engaged in a “New Cold War.” It’s hard to read it any other way.

The origin of the term “Cold War” is generally credited to George Orwell, who used it in a trenchant 1945 essay pondering the geo-strategic implications of the atomic bomb. The existence of a weapon so destructive, Orwell predicted, would put an end to overt shooting wars between great powers, and replace them instead with endless below-the-brink hostilities: espionage, subterfuge, influence-peddling, propaganda, and proxy wars. Conflict would stop short of direct combat—but drag on across many fronts without resolution; the bomb’s legacy, he warned, would be a “peace that is no peace.”

That proved a prescient description of the rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union from 1945 until the collapse of the Berlin Wall—and, in recent months, has become an apt characterization of the Sino-American relationship.

In his Hudson Institute address, Pence detailed a litany of Chinese offenses: meddling in domestic US elections; doling out unfair subsidies to state-owned companies; forcing US companies to surrender technology as the price of competing in the Chinese market; mounting cyber-attacks on US companies and government agencies; recklessly confronting the US naval forces in the South China Sea; bullying Taiwan; and trampling the rights of its own citizens.

China’s goal, Pence charged, was to thwart a second term for Donald Trump, “push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies.”

Pence’s speech came two days after a Chinese warship sailed within 45 yards of a US destroyer in waters near one of the disputed islets China claims in the Spratly archipelago. On Thursday, as Pence delivered his address, Bloomberg published a blockbuster report alleging that microchips designed and manufactured by the Chinese military were planted in server motherboards at factories supplying San Jose-based Supermicro, and later made their way into data centers controlled by dozens of US companies including Amazon and Apple, a major bank, and US government contractors.

China’s response to Pence’s broadside was predictably apoplectic. The Chinese foreign ministry decried his remarks as “ridiculous,” “malicious slander,” and created out of “thin air.” But China’s leaders have to be taking note of the administration’s strident tone. A few weeks ago, Beijing began pushing the idea that there’s no point in holding trade talks with the US because the Trump administration’s larger goal is to stop China’s rise as a global power. The claim was mostly a pose—but is starting to look a lot more plausible.

More China news below.

Clay Chandler
@claychandler
clay.chandler@timeinc.com

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