A week before the Osaka G20, Mike Pence was dismayed to learn that his big moment had been delayed – indefinitely.
Earlier that month, the vice president was gearing up to deliver a hawkish foreign policy speech to mark the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.
The address, initially planned for June 4, would have found Mike decrying China’s human rights record, in the process paving the way for the US to slap sanctions on Chinese surveillance companies including Hikvision, which would be subject to a Huawei-style ban. Plans for those sanctions initially came to light on May 21, and finally came to fruition earlier this month.
Ultimately, Mike’s big day was rescheduled for June 24, and then pushed back again amid “signs of progress” ahead of the Trump-Xi pow wow in Japan.
Obviously, Pence’s speech had the potential to inflame tensions with China at a delicate juncture and some worried it would be the death knell for trade talks. Trump, fearing the address would jeopardize the G20 meeting, postponed Pence’s speech.
Fast forward four months and Mike’s speech is back on, by God. According to an administration official who spoke to Reuters, Pence will deliver a “major” address regarding US policy towards China next Thursday.
US stocks immediately crashed to session lows.
The dismay is justified. Over the past two weeks, the US has accused China of human rights violations on three occasions.
Ahead of the latest round of trade talks, the Trump administration pulled the trigger on Hikvision, blacklisting the surveillance colossus and more than two-dozen Chinese public security bureaus and companies, citing Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs. The next day, Trump imposed a travel ban, citing the same human rights concerns. Earlier this week, House lawmakers passed several bills in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, prompting an angry response from the Mainland.
Pence’s speech will exacerbate all of that – and then some.
The vice president’s track record when it comes to foreign policy speeches is either sterling or abysmal, depending on whether you’re enamored with condescending proclamations about what America will and won’t tolerate from other nations – especially China. Pence famously blew up APEC last November and his world tour in February was a comedy of errors.
As details of this speech leak (which they invariably will) they will be parsed quickly by the market for clues as to whether he intends to take the opportunity to enshrine the “Pence doctrine” into the history books, thereby deep-sixing the trade truce, only this time, for good.