The Current State of U.S.-China Relations


The Current State of U.S.-China Relations

Jul 15, 2021 15 min read

48th Vice President of the United States

Photo Credit: Erin Granzow

Well thank you so very much for that warm welcome back to Washington D.C. We took a short trip from Indiana, and it’s good to be amongst so many gathered here today. I’m especially delighted to be back at The Heritage Foundation, and to have the distinct honor—not only to be a distinguished visiting fellow—but to deliver the annual B.C. Lee Lecture among so many distinguished leaders from across this country and representatives of allies of the United States.

I’m grateful for the invitation, and I am proud, with each and every one of you, to stand today here at The Heritage Foundation in defense of the ideals that make up our priceless heritage of freedom. No better venue than The Heritage Foundation.

Before I begin, let me speak to an issue on the minds of freedom loving people around the world. As we gather today, the people of Cuba are taking to the streets, once again, for the ideals of freedom. For more than 60 years, the people of Cuba have labored under a communist dictatorship that has stifled their liberty, silenced voices of dissent, and squandered their future. And while some on the far left are hesitant to criticize their communist friends in Cuba, let me say clearly: the American people stand with the courageous men and women of Cuba that are marching to reclaim their history of libertad. The United States must always stand for a free and democratic Cuba: it must always be Que Viva Cuba Libre. So thank you for that.

I also just want to say thank you again to our hosts today. The extraordinary team here at The Heritage Foundation. It’s had an impact in my life and my career, and it’s my great honor to be associated with this institution today. Would you join me in thanking someone who I think personifies everything that’s best about the conservative movement and has done an extraordinary job leading this institution: President Kay Coles James. Thank you so much. I also want to thank Vice President Jim Carafano, and also the founder of The Heritage Foundation, Ed Feulner—two men who have had a great impact on my thinking as well. Also I wanted to acknowledge three people that I’m awfully glad to see again. Three distinguished members of President Trump’s cabinet who are with us today and served the United States with extraordinary distinction. They include former U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, and the former director of the Centers for Disease Control, Robert Redfield. Would you join me in thanking these extraordinary American leaders? It’s good to be with you.

As Vice President, I had the honor of giving what many considered to be two significant foreign policy speeches about China—first at the Hudson Institute in 2018, and then at the Wilson Center in 2019.

In those speeches, I sought to outline the numerous policies of the Chinese Communist Party that harmed America’s interests: from China’s debt diplomacy and military expansionism; to its repression of people of faith; its omnipresent surveillance state; and, of course, to the undeclared trade war China had been waging on the United States for decades.

I noted that America’s leaders, both Republican and Democrat, had failed to address these abuses under the mistaken belief that China’s newfound prosperity would inevitably lead to liberty.

And I explained that all that changed when President Donald Trump arrived in the White House. I articulated first in 2018 the reasons why the Trump-Pence administration was taking a different course with China—it was guided not by wishful thinking, but by a clear-eyed assessment that China was a strategic and economic rival playing to win by any means necessary.

Over those four years, President Donald Trump and I changed the national consensus on China. For the first time, under our administration, we met China’s military provocations in the Western Pacific with the largest increase in military spending since the days of Ronald Reagan. We stood up to years of trade abuses, and imposed historic tariffs on Chinese imports to bring China to the negotiating table. We spoke out forcefully against China’s human rights abuses, and we called the tragedy unfolding in Xinjiang what it is: genocide.

Today, the debate is settled. After the leadership of our administration, millions of Americans acknowledge we were right.

Americans of every political persuasion now recognize that the Chinese regime harbors adversarial intentions towards the United States and our allies. In the wake of a devastating worldwide pandemic compounded by Beijing’s lack of transparency, we know Chinese leaders cannot be trusted. And millions of Americans today are awake to the fact that the Chinese Communist Party aspires not merely to join the community of economically developed nations, but to sit atop a new global order created in its own image—a world in which freedom is constrained, but Beijing’s power is not.

Yet, despite this new national consensus, the Biden-Harris administration is already rolling over to Communist China. They rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, allowing China to pollute with impunity. They rejoined the Chinese-controlled World Health Organization without demanding a single concession in the wake of failures throughout the pandemic. And they terminated our administration’s inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, before later reversing course.

Now, President Biden has maintained a few of our administration’s tough policies on China—for example, the tariffs he campaigned against in 2020, so far, remain in place. But it’s important to remember that our policies, which secured the groundbreaking Phase One trade deal in January of 2020, were only intended to be first steps. America cannot afford to stand still in righting our relationship with China. It is incumbent upon the Biden administration to keep up the pressure, pick up the pace, and lead America forward.

Because China is pursuing its global ambitions more aggressively than ever before. While Americans were celebrating the Fourth of July just a few short days ago, President Xi Jinping gave a speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. In that speech he warned the world that anyone standing in China’s way, and I quote, “will find their heads bashed bloody against a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.”

There’s an old saying that weakness arouses evil. And my sense is that China senses weakness in this new administration. This was reflected in the brazenly aggressive tone Beijing displayed at the first face-to-face meeting between senior Biden administration officials and Chinese diplomats, where Americans were literally, in that Alaska meeting, lectured on the shortcomings of our democracy, the foolishness of American values, and the so-called superiority of China’s authoritarian system.

The American people recognize today what our administration brought to the forefront: the Chinese Communist Party is the greatest threat to our prosperity, security, and values on the face of the earth. China may not yet be an Evil Empire—but it is working hard every day to become one.

But it’s important to remember that China is not 10 feet tall. Her weaknesses are greater than her strengths. And China is a lonely power. Of the 14 nations that share a border with China, the only one it can claim as an ally is North Korea. History proves that a united America, proud of its past and committed to its principles, is a power no force on earth can stop.

So in the wake of the historic progress that we made during our administration, I believe there are a number of urgent steps the Biden administration must take for America to continue to effectively respond to China’s economic and military ambitions, and to protect America’s vital interests.

First, the United States must demand that China come clean about the origins of the Coronavirus. The evidence strongly suggests the Coronavirus leaked out of a Chinese lab. After 4 million deaths across the world and a year of unspeakable hardship, the American people and the world deserve to know exactly what the Chinese Communist Party knew, when they knew it, and the specific actions they took based on that knowledge.

More than anything else, the pandemic has revealed the recklessness, incompetence, and corruption of the Chinese regime. At the beginning of the pandemic, it is unconscionable that China suspended travel within its own borders but did not suspend travel with the outside world. I submit to you that President’s Trump decision to suspend all travel from China in January of 2020 saved countless American lives and bought us invaluable time to stand up the greatest national mobilization since World War 2. That’s what leadership looks like.

Now the Chinese Communist Party believes the purpose of science is to advance the party’s objectives. The truth is, every technological advancement achieved under the all-seeing eye of the Chinese Communist Party could be weaponized. When America funds scientific research in China, we become complicit in every abuse committed using the technology that is developed. Under no circumstance should the United States allow public or private funding of scientific laboratories in Communist China—especially those involved in gain of function research today.

Second, we need to ensure that America is fully prepared for the future pandemic that may strike the world. A pandemic unrelated to COVID-19, which, if history is a guide, could likely emerge from China as well. I remember calling a prime minister of another country shortly after I was tapped by the President to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force. I called to ask him to ask that he ship generic drugs of a certain type to the United States, because all production of that medicine had moved overseas. In the wake of that, our administration ordered federal agencies to purchase certain prescription drugs exclusively from American factories, to bring vital medical supply chains back home to the United States. President Biden should build on these efforts and ensure that all essential pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and protective gear are made right here in the U.S.A. The lives and health and wellbeing of the American people should never be left—never be left to the whims of a Communist dictatorship.

Third, the president should accelerate efforts to decouple the American economy from China in industries that are essential to the American people and our national security. For example, Chinese investors now own nearly 200,000 acres of prime American farmland. America cannot allow China to control our food supply. The president and the congress should end all farm subsidies for land owned by foreign nationals. Likewise, we should prohibit Chinese investment in critical U.S. infrastructure projects like pipelines and power plants. And I call on the Biden administration to increase the number of Chinese companies prohibited from American investment by at least an order of magnitude.

The Securities and Exchange Commission must also rediscover its mission to protect American investors—something it failed to do before this month’s fiasco involving Didi’s stock offering. Didi is just the latest opaque Chinese company operating under Beijing’s capricious regulations to take billions of dollars from ill-informed U.S. investors. The SEC must obey the law enacted by our administration and delist Chinese companies that flout the rules of accounting and transparency that American public companies must follow.

Even as we decouple from Communist China, we should also take this opportunity in history to strengthen the ties of economic commerce between the United States and Taiwan. Now is the perfect time to negotiate a trade agreement with Taiwan that will benefit both partners, while also helping Taiwan remain strong and secure. Engaging with Taiwan encourages other free nations to do likewise—and it promotes stability and peace throughout the region.

America must also continue to stand with the freedom-loving people of Hong Kong. For decades, Beijing promised that Hong Kong would remain a free city under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. But as my friend Jimmy Lai has learned—who now languishes in a prison simply for exercising his freedom of speech supporting peaceful protesters—times have changed. The free world must hold accountable Chinese officials that break their word to the world and fail to honor their commitments to the people in Hong Kong.

Fourth, America must significantly increase the readiness of our Navy in order to ensure freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific. Just this week, China boasted that it “drove away” a U.S. Navy ship conducting freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea. While President Biden is cutting defense spending in his proposed budget, the Chinses military budget has increased by nearly 7 percent this year and it has increased by almost 600 percent over the last two decades. China also recently launched its own space station and is rapidly developing new space technology. Maintaining American military superiority requires new investments in American shipyards and it also requires that we effectively organize and deploy the United States Space Force. At the same time, the President must make it clear that the Western Hemisphere is off limits to China’s neo-colonialism. As China continues to spend billions of dollars building infrastructure in Latin America, President Biden should state unambiguously that the United States remains committed to the Monroe Doctrine. This week, Beijing’s glowing endorsement of the communist regime in Cuba, while brave Cubans are taking to the streets demanding freedom, is a grim reminder of China’s ongoing effort to gain a foothold in the Americas. To be clear: China must never be allowed to build a military base in Latin America or anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.

And not unrelatedly, there was a report released this week by House and Senate Republicans that shows that our military is spending more time on wokeness than on warfighting. With the challenges we face at this critical time, the military brass at the Pentagon needs to stop wasting time on politically correct nonsense like Critical Race Theory, and they need to start focusing on ensuring our military remains the best trained and best prepared fighting force in the world.

Fifth, to protect American intellectual property and national security, President Biden should immediately prohibit the issuance of H1-B visas to Chinese nationals employed at U.S. technology companies. This is not because we don’t trust Chinese visa holders—it’s because we don’t trust China’s communist government. We know that China often coerces its own citizens to participate in industrial espionage, and forces them to hand over trade secrets against their will.

To further protect our homeland, our elected leaders in Washington should ban the Confucius Institute, a program funded by the Communist Party in China to facilitate the theft of American research and spread Chinese propaganda on American college campuses. Our leaders and our colleges and universities should say the day is over for the Confucius Institute on campuses in America.

Finally, President Biden should make a clear and unequivocal demand that the 2022 Winter Olympics be moved from Beijing unless China comes clean on the origins of COVID-19 and immediately ends the persecution of the Uighur people. The Olympics should only take place in countries that respect fundamental human rights and the well-being of mankind.

These are the steps the new administration must take to confront the unique challenges we face with the Chinese Communist Party.

It’s important to reflect that in many respects, Communist China poses a greater challenge to the United States than the Soviet Union ever did throughout the Cold War. Today America is forced to confront China on two fronts: one against an authoritarian system and military bent on regional domination; and the other against powerful business interests and celebrities in our own country who openly aid and abet the communist regime.

To put a fine point on it, imagine if during the Cold War, the USSR also happened to be America’s top trading partner. Imagine if the United States was dependent on Moscow for life saving medical equipment, or the rare earth minerals essential to modern technology. Imagine your favorite household brands indirectly funding Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, building the Berlin Wall, or financing the construction of gulags in Siberia. For those of us old enough to remember the Cold War, it’s beyond imagination. And yet this is precisely the situation we face today in what may well be an emerging Cold War with China.

Beijing has exploited modern corporate America’s insatiable appetite for market access and coerced top CEOs, athletes and entertainers into not only withholding criticism from the communist regime, but in many cases actively singing its praises.

American business leaders preach social justice at home, while they profit from slavery abroad. They boast of their commitment to the environment while their facilities in China blacken the skies and choke our oceans with plastic. They criticize America’s founding fathers while lauding the regime that murdered millions of its own citizens during the Great Leap Forward, and perpetrated the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

I think millions of Americans are asking a very simple question of leaders and businesses: Are you an American company, or a Chinese company? Are you for democracy, or for totalitarianism? Millions of Americans are looking at corporate America today and saying: Are you on our side, or theirs?

Henry Kissinger said recently that we are in the foothills of a new Cold War. So now is a time for leaders in America in the public and private sector to make a choice.

The CEO of Nike appears to have made his choice. He recently announced, and I quote, “Nike is a brand that is of China and for China.” That probably explains why, just a few years ago, they cancelled production of a shoe with an American flag on it. I hope Nike understands that the American people are watching.

The truth is, the China problem was made and manufactured right here in the U.S.A. China’s rise continues to be enabled by American businesses—some in public life—it continues to be powered with American technology, all at the expense of the American people.

But the good news is that a problem made in America can be fixed in America. All we have to do is stay the course set by our administration and stand firm.

As consumers, we can stop buying Chinese imports and start looking for products made with American hands and American pride.

As employers, we can stop sending jobs and factories to China and start building up our own communities.

As investors, we can stop investing the pensions of American citizens in companies that develop weapons of war for the Chinese military, and instruments of control over the Chinese people.

And our elected leaders must build on the progress of the Trump-Pence administration and use the economic and military power of the United States of America to check the ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party in the interests of the American people and American values.

Only a proud and confident and united America can meet that challenge.

When societies lose faith in their values, they soon lose faith in themselves. Today, America is involved in a great debate at home about who we are and whence we come. The Chinese people, by contrast, in the face of the power and the party that rules over them, the people themselves seem to realize what some in the West have forgotten: that a civilization is only as strong as its faith is vibrant. In 1958 Chairman Mao proudly declared that communist China was “religion free”. But today, despite the harsh efforts of the Chinese Communist Party, there are more Chinese Christians in church on Sunday in China than there are members of the Communist Party in China.

I want to be very clear that when we speak as we did in 2018 and 2019, and our administration took the steps that we took, it was in opposition to the efforts and the ambitions of the Chinese Communist party—not the Chinese people. As an ancient civilization, we believe that China—the Chinese people—are deserving of respect, with so much to admire even though their current government has very different values than ours. China must understand that America’s decisions can never be separated from our most cherished belief that each of us are “endowed by (our) Creator with certain unalienable rights…that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

America does not seek to impose our values on others, but we will never apologize or abandon our values in the name of commerce. And we should never hesitate, as President Trump showed us, to make access to the world’s largest economy contingent on respect for the basic principles of fair play and the rule of law.

And so, as I closed my prior remarks on U.S.-China relations, so I close today: America’s new administration must stay the course, stay on the path that we forged: a new path for the American people built on realism and a recognition of the challenge that China poses to our country. We must stand resolute in defense of our interests and our values, even as we reach out a hand to China in the hope that Beijing will reach back with deeds, not words, with renewed respect for America.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that reads, “Men see only the present, but Heaven sees the future.” As we go forward, let’s pursue a future of peace and prosperity with resolve and faith. Faith in our ideals and America’s place in the world as a beacon of hope for all mankind. Faith in the enduring friendship and ties between our people and the Chinese people. And faith that Heaven sees the future—and that by God’s grace, it will be a future in which America and China move beyond our present differences and forge a new relationship grounded in fairness and respect; when the rising tide that will life both nations; where we can proudly stand together, as partners and friends. That is our hope, that must be our resolve, and let it be our prayer.

So thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.