Pence accuses China of anti-Trump campaign

Vice President Pence on Thursday accused China of meddling in U.S. elections with the aim of hurting President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE and the Republican Party, the latest sign of the administration taking a tough line against Beijing ahead of the November midterms.
 
In a fiery speech to the conservative Hudson Institute in Washington, Pence said that China is extending its power "in more proactive and coercive ways to interfere in the domestic policies and politics of the United States."
 
“China has initiated an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections,” Pence said.
 
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"To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working; China wants a different American president," Pence said.
 
Pence's remarks come as U.S. officials, including Trump himself, have ramped up their rhetoric against what they say are Chinese efforts to undermine American businesses, provoke the U.S. military and develop a sophisticated election-meddling campaign similar to what Russia carried out in the 2016 election.
 
The comments echo Trump's explosive allegation, made last week at the United Nations Security Council, that China is already interfering in the 2018 midterm elections. China's foreign minister denied the claim at the time. 
 
"Beijing has mobilized covert actors, front groups, and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policies," Pence said. "As a senior career member of our intelligence community recently told me, what the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country."
 
The vice president said China's alleged election meddling is a response to Trump's decision to slap tariffs on Chinese goods, claiming it has "specifically targeted industries and states that would play an important role in the 2018 election."
 
"By one estimate, more than 80 percent of U.S. counties targeted by China voted for President Trump in 2016; now China wants to turn these voters against our administration," he said. 
 
Pence also accused China of “directly appealing to the American voter,” citing an insert paid for by a Chinese-backed media outlet in the Des Moines Register that criticized the Trump administration’s trade practices.
 
Other Trump administration officials have recently warned of the hybrid threat posed by China.
 
In an address last week, Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats Chuck Todd on administration vacancies: 'Is this any way to run a government?' MORE accused Beijing of targeting state and local government and “trying to exploit any divisions between federal and local levels on policy and us[ing] investments and other incentives to expand its influence” during a speech at military college The Citadel last week.

Still, officials have offered no evidence of China engaging in cyberattacks akin to what Russia did to influence the 2016 election. In addition to hacking and releasing emails of high-level Democrats, Russian hackers also targeted digital systems involved in the election, including breaching a voter database in Illinois.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenFour heated moments from House hearing on conditions at border facilities Chuck Todd on administration vacancies: 'Is this any way to run a government?' Live coverage: House Oversight examines Trump family separation policy MORE said Tuesday that there is “no indication” of any foreign adversary trying to disrupt U.S. election systems.

“We know they have the capability and we know they have the will,” Nielsen said at a cyber summit hosted by The Washington Post. “So we’re constantly on alert. What we see with China right now are influence campaigns, the more traditional, long-standing, holistic influence campaigns.”

On Thursday, Pence accused China of “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 also said Beijing had pressured U.S. business leaders and companies, censored media and individuals in academia and spent “billions” on propaganda outlets to influence American public opinion and policy.
 
The speech is likely to further inflame tensions with Beijing given an escalating trade war and saber-rattling over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The burgeoning economic conflict threatens to dampen the U.S. and global economy.
 
Trump has long accused China of "ripping us off" on trade even as he sought to form a relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and seek his help in brokering nuclear diplomacy with North Korea.