Mike Pence’s long-awaited China speech came and went on Thursday largely without incident.
Risk assets stumbled late last week on news that the vice president would finally deliver the address, after multiple delays over the summer. It was initially scheduled to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.
The original plan was to have Mike decry China’s human rights record, in the process paving the way for the US to slap sanctions on Chinese surveillance companies, including Hikvision. The plans were scrapped in June in order to facilitate trade talks between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at the G20 in Osaka.
The Hikivision sanctions were eventually implemented, along with a travel ban, but Mike’s speech was presumed dead until last Friday, when the White House verified he would go ahead with it.
Speaking at the Wilson Center in Washington on Thursday Pence struck a dovish tone where it counted and a hawkish tone where it didn’t.
The Trump administration, he said, is not looking to “de-couple” from China. That’s an allusion to a broad strategy shift championed by hardliners that some feared might be taking shape with the planned institution of rules curtailing capital flows to the country.
Pence also said that the US is “ready for a new future” with Beijing if China ends its unfair trade practices. Trump is not looking to “foreclose practical cooperation”, the vice president added.
Really, he could have just ended it there as far as the market was concerned. Those remarks were clearly designed to avoid upsetting any trade negotiation applecarts, and with the Hikvision blacklisting and the travel ban already on the books (and presumably being discussed behind the scenes), there wasn’t much else Pence could say that would have surprised anyone.
He did say that Beijing continues to aid and abet the theft of US intellectual property and that opioids still “flow across borders” despite Xi’s promises to stop it. Pence called the PLA’s activity in the region “provocative”.
Of course, he gave the obligatory shoutouts to the Hong Kong protesters and reiterated that the US stands with them. (Somebody forgot to tell Trump, though.)
Congress is still angling to do as much as possible for the demonstrators, although with the violence escalating materially in recent weeks, one wonders when somebody in the west will state the obvious, which is that regardless of whether the cause is just, riots are riots. And at various intervals those “protesters” have engaged in “rioting”. Period. What that calls for in terms of a response is another issue, but let’s not pretend as though setting things on fire and ransacking businesses is a form of peaceful protesting.
Amusingly, Nike and the game of basketball got the worst of Pence’s ire. The vice president accused the NBA – and, tacitly, Nike – of “acting like a wholly owned subsidiary” of the Communist party.
“Nike promotes itself as a so-called social justice champion”, Pence said, adopting his signature serious voice. “But when it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social consciousness at the door”.
“Nike stores in China actually removed the Houston Rockets merchandise from their shelves in China to join the Chinese government in protest against the [team’s] general manager”, he continued. “And some of the NBA’s biggest players and owners who routinely exercise their freedom to criticize this country lose their voices when it comes to the freedom and rights of the people of China”.
So, just cutting through the nonsense here, Donald Trump is still mad at the Golden State Warriors and also at Colin Kaepernick. Don’t kid yourself. That is the takeaway from Pence’s remarks.
If Trump were really concerned about Hong Kong, he wouldn’t have promised, in a June 18 phone call with Xi, to remain silent on the pro-democracy protests in order to ensure that the trade talks didn’t careen further off the tracks.
@VP , in light of ur comments today, u might be interested 2 know that in addition to Xi, there is another world leader pressuring sports leagues & Nike to get with the party line or be blackballed
I assume you'll promptly criticize this "Trump" personhttps://t.co/IfrNUyTPGi
— Heisenberg Report (@heisenbergrpt) October 24, 2019