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Mike Pence Will Accuse China—Not Russia—of Being the Main Meddler in the Upcoming 2018 Elections

Vice President Mike Pence will accuse China of meddling in the 2018 U.S. elections through a campaign of propaganda, spies, tariffs and coercive measures, according to excerpts of a speech he is scheduled to give Thursday.

“Beijing has mobilized covert actors, front groups, and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policies,” Pence will say in a speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington, according to prepared remarks. “As a senior career member of our intelligence community recently told me, what the Russians are doing pales in comparison” to China’s actions.

Pence’s speech is scheduled to take place just over a week after President Donald Trump accused China of attempting to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections. The remarks underscore administration concern that anxiety over the trade battle could hurt Republican performance in midterm congressional elections, scheduled for Nov. 6.

“Going into elections, Trump has got to look like a strong leader and it helps to have an enemy abroad — this is a truism of international relations,” said Rosita Dellios, an associate international relations professor at Bond University in Gold Coast, Australia. “China would be ill-advised not to pursue some level of influence through the media and other sources. But that’s normal. The Americans do it. The Russians do it.”

Election Claims

While the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment on Pence’s remarks, Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed Trump’s earlier claims as “ unwarranted.” Trump didn’t provide much evidence to back up the accusation, pointing to an advertisement the Chinese government took out in an Iowa newspaper attacking the president’s trade policies.

Pence planned to highlight a range of measures that he will say constitute a “whole-of-government approach” to interfering in U.S. politics. China has responded to Trump’s decision to levy tariffs on $250 billion of its exports with its own tariffs on U.S. goods, including soybeans and other agricultural products.

Trade War

Trump appears to be gearing up for a protracted trade war, declaring earlier this week that “it’s too early to talk” with China. “Can’t talk now, because they’re not ready,” Trump said on Monday after announcing a new trade pact with Canada and Mexico at the White House.

Pence planned to single out China’s use of retaliatory tariffs in his speech on Thursday.

“They specifically targeted industries and states that would play an important role in the 2018 election,” he planned to say, according to the speech excerpts released in advance. “By one estimate, more than 80% of U.S. counties targeted by China voted for President Trump in 2016; now China wants to turn these voters against our administration.”

While China does maintain global efforts to influence overseas Chinese and has been accused of several high-profile cyber raids on American computer systems, there has so far been no public evidence of the sort of influence operations the U.S. has said Russia carried out in 2016. China’s strategic tariffs have been interpreted as an effort to support congressional opposition to Trump’s trade policies.

‘Unsafe and Unprofessional’

Pence’s remarks suggested that security disputes were increasingly becoming intertwined with the trade fight. He also planned to take on China over its actions in the South China Sea, where the U.S. has criticized the Chinese government for building military bases on reclaimed reefs.

Earlier this week, the U.S. accused China’s navy of “unsafe and unprofessional” conduct near an occupied reef in the South China Sea after a Chinese destroyer maneuvered close to the bow of an American warship attempting to assert navigation rights. China accused the U.S. of violating its “indisputable sovereignty.”

“Despite such reckless harassment, the United States Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand,” Pence will say. “We will not be intimidated; we will not stand down.”

The U.S. Pacific Fleet is drafting plans for a global show of force to warn China and demonstrate resolve to deter Beijing’s military actions, CNN reported Thursday, citing several unidentified U.S. defense officials.

Pence also planned to weigh in on China’s use of coercive measures to convince countries and companies to sever ties with Taiwan.

“While our administration will continue to respect our One China Policy, as reflected in the three joint communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act, let me also say that Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people,” he will say, according to the prepared remarks.