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Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

In a speech about America's biggest adversary on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence saved some of his sharpest words for U.S. companies.

What he's saying: The VP steered clear of the uber-hawkish wing of the Trump administration, saying the U.S. does not want to "decouple" with China and "does not seek open confrontation."

  • But, he expressed full support for Chinese Christians and Uighurs, defended pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, and slammed the NBA and Nike for muzzling free speech to do business with China.

The big picture: Although Pence emphasized that the U.S. wants to engage with China, not fight it, he laid out a long list of examples of its bad behavior.

  • Intellectual property theft.
  • Chinese fentanyl in the American opioid crisis.
  • Chinese export of surveillance technologies.
  • The global influence operations under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Why it matters: With its massive market of consumers and leverage against the U.S. in the trade war, China is increasingly difficult for some American politicians and companies to criticize.

  • Pence said the NBA is "siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech ... acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime."
  • “Nike promotes itself as a so-called social-justice champion, but when it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social conscience at the door,” he said.

Yes, but: In 2017, the VP walked out of an NFL game after players exercised those same rights to free expression by taking a knee during the national anthem.

Go deeper: How businesses are silenced by China, Russia and Saudi Arabia

Go deeper

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.