Former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceHaley has 'positive' meeting with Trump Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mitch McConnell's great Trumpian miscalculation MORE on Wednesday laid out his vision for U.S. policy on China, calling for the Biden administration to build on the aggressive approach the Trump administration took in the region.
Pence, speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation, detailed a series of concrete steps he hoped President BidenJoe BidenPfizer CEO says vaccine data for those under 5 could be available by end of year Omicron coronavirus variant found in at least 10 states Photos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles MORE would take to get tough on China after the coronavirus pandemic originated there and as Beijing cracks down on human rights. His remarks were the first of what is expected to be several policy-focused speeches as Pence looks to remain in the public eye.
The former vice president acknowledged the Biden administration has kept some Trump-era policies, such as tariffs on Chinese goods, but warned Biden must do more to keep up the pressure amid "the emerging cold war with China."
"Our elected leaders must build on the progress of the Trump-Pence administration, and use the economic and military power of the United States to check the ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party in ways that put the American people and American values first," Pence said. "Only a proud, confident and united America can meet the challenge of China."
Pence urged Biden to demand the 2022 Winter Olympics be moved out of Beijing, citing China's treatment of both Uyghur Muslims, which the U.S. government has called genocide, and citizens of Hong Kong.
The former vice president, who chaired the White House coronavirus task force, condemned China's lack of transparency around the origins of the pandemic and argued evidence "strongly suggests the coronavirus leaked out of a Chinese lab."
Pence called for the U.S. to halt public and private funding for scientific labs in China, cautioning that doing so makes America "complicit in every human rights abuse committed with American-funded technology."
Pence further called for a more aggressive decoupling of U.S. economic interests from Chinese industries, warning that a failure to do so would lead to a greater dependence on Chinese goods. And he suggested Biden seek out a trade deal with Taiwan, whose status is a source of tension between the U.S. and China.
And Pence emphasized the need for a strong Navy to combat Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region.
Biden has spoken about the need to match China's economic competitiveness, and he has warned authoritarians like Chinese President Xi Jinping pose a looming threat to democracy around the world. But he has also been careful to avoid embracing Trump policies on key issues like immigration and the economy, making China policy an outlier.
Pence's speech on Wednesday was the first of what is expected to be several addresses on domestic and foreign policy throughout this year. His remarks to the Heritage Foundation focused on the importance of U.S. values, a running theme as he has emphasized the importance of conservative principles in each of his speeches since leaving office.
"When societies lose faith in their values, they soon lose faith in themselves," Pence said. "And today, America's involved in a great debate at home about who we are and from whence we come."
Pence has been getting back on the speaking circuit in recent weeks, addressing conservative groups in South Carolina, New Hampshire and Florida. The speeches have fueled speculation that Pence is eyeing a presidential bid in 2024 as he seeks to carve out a lane where he both ties himself to Trump and forges his own path.
But a Pence aide denied Wednesday's remarks were about positioning the former vice president for a future campaign. The speech was part of a broader effort from Pence's political advocacy group, Advancing American Freedom, to merge traditional conservative principles with the Trump administration's agenda, the aide said.
"This is really a marker by Pence through the auspices of Advancing American Freedom for Republicans and conservatives to rally around and carry the torch," the aide said.