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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

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Biden reviews U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia and UAE

Trump struck several large arms deals with Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Saudi Arabia. Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

The Biden administration has put on hold two big arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which were approved in the final weeks of the Trump administration, a State Department official told Axios.

Why it matters: The sales of F-35 jets and attack drones to the UAE and a large supply of munitions to Saudi Arabia will be paused pending a review. That signals a major policy shift from the Trump era, and may herald sharp tensions with both Gulf countries.

Trump supporter found with pipe bombs accused of plot to attack Democrats

Five improvised explosive devices that the FBI says "were fully operational and could cause great bodily harm or injury if handled improperly." Photo: FBI/Justice Department

The FBI believes California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and the Bay Area headquarters of Twitter and Facebook were targets of a man facing federal explosives charges, according to a criminal complaint.

Driving the news: Prosecutors charged Ian Benjamin Rogers after finding weapons including five pipe bombs, 49 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition following a Jan. 15 search of his Napa County home and auto repair business. His alleged goal was to ensure former President Trump remained in office.

7 hours ago - Health

Fauci: COVID vaccine rollout needs to prioritize people of color

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci highlighted the need to address racial disparities in the COVID-19 vaccination process, per an interview with The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

What he’s saying: "I think that's the one thing we really got to be careful of. We don't want in the beginning ... most of the people who are getting it are otherwise, well, middle-class white people."