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The Trumps and the Xis during Trump's Nov. 2017 visit to Beijing. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Vice President Mike Pence today accused China of using its military, spies, economic power and propaganda prowess to undermine the U.S. around the world and influence its domestic politics. The U.S. had long turned a blind eye, Pence said, “but those days are over.”
Why it matters: Pence made headlines by declaring that China “wants a different American president” and by repeating the still-unsubstantiated claim that Beijing is meddling in the midterms. But his underlying message echoes a growing consensus among China watchers: We're entering a new era of U.S.-China relations, driven by competition and confrontation.
Axios China writer Bill Bishop emailed his thoughts on how Beijing will view the speech:
“I have no doubt this will just be seen as more evidence to support the belief that Xi and his team have that we are in a new era of U.S.-China relations where the U.S. is determined to keep China down. They did not fully believe this even a few months ago but now they seem to have fully bought into the idea that the trade war is just one dimension of a growing adversarial relationship and conflict across every dimension. The gloves on both sides are not yet off, but we should prepare for them to come off.”
Chris Johnson, a former CIA China analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discussed what he describes as the “pronounced groundshift in Washington about how China is viewed” on this week’s Intelligence Matters podcast with Michael Morell. His key points:
His advice: Sort out the trade war and turn to the bigger challenge — long-term technological and economic competition — without obsessing over China’s influence operations.
“We have a limited amount of things we can focus on at any one time, and I worry that we’re going to squander those scarce resources chasing ghosts because we have a playbook for that from the Cold War. It’s familiar to us. This technology-economy challenge is new to us, we don’t have a playbook for that, it’s uncomfortable, and yet that’s where the challenge really lies.”
The bottom line: "The gears are starting to lock into place in both leadership’s minds that this is an implacable enemy, a global struggle for influence and maybe domination."
David Rennie, the Economist’s Beijing bureau chief, writes in his latest column that America's China policy "has long whiffed of hypocrisy,” but honesty poses dangers of its own.
The hours before Pence's speech saw ...
Bishop says that from China's perspective, that sudden gush of news and allegations "probably looks like a coordinated propaganda effort."
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
Axios' Jonathan Swan tells me that part of the strategy behind the administration's anti-China push is an attempt to change the narrative that Russia is America’s primary geopolitical foe.
Nonetheless, the Kremlin's aggression in the West has only ramped up, as a string of revelations just this morning make clear:
The bigger picture: Trump's national security strategy describes "great power competition" with both Russia and China as the administration's primary focus, after nearly two decades defined by counterterrorism.
Vendors use a street shack that accepts EcoCash in the Mbare neighborhood of Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 27, 2018. Photo: Dan Kitwood via Getty Images
Of the 690 million registered mobile-money accounts worldwide, 50% are in Africa, Aubrey Hruby of the Atlantic Council writes for Axios Expert Voices:
The director-general of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevêdo, said during an episode of Freakonomics Radio that while he has had conversations with the leaders of nearly every major economy, he has never spoken directly with President Trump, Axios Zach Basu reports.
Why it matters: Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the WTO, a move that would send global markets into a spiral and cast trillions of dollars of trade into doubt, per Axios' Jonathan Swan. The U.S. has also blocked the reappointment of one of the WTO's four remaining appellate judges, claiming the panel oversteps its authorities and protects unfair trade practices by other countries.
The big picture: Azevêdo said he can see why Trump and others may have concerns about the way global trade operates, but claimed those frustrations stem from a lack of understanding about the WTO's history:
"These tariffs are there because they were negotiated over 80 years ... those situations are not there by accident. They are there because there is a history behind them and this is why we got to these tariffs and these commitments negotiated in the WTO."
He called for "a deeper conversation" with the U.S. and others in order to resolve ongoing trade tensions, and said he is "always available" if Trump is interested in reaching out.
Recent violence in the areas where the deadly Ebola virus is centered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has triggered stronger moves by the U.S. and international organizations to prevent the virus from spreading to other countries, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly writes.
Why it matters: Violence has pushed public health measures against Ebola into sporadic stoppages — effectively allowing the infectious disease to take foothold again. Fighting against Ebola requires constant tracking of every person who's been in contact with an infected person, as well as a vaccination and treatment regime and education on hygiene.
What we're hearing ...
"To say it's fragile would be an understatement. We've never had such an explosive combination of rebel activity and spread of the virus, particularly in some populations that don't believe in traditional public health measures."— Michael Osterholm, director, University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy
What to watch ...
Into the deluge of espionage-related news over the last 24 hours dropped a Buzzfeed News investigation that found the U.S. went along with a Kremlin lie about the demise of a Russian double agent.
The tantalizing lede: "At 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 9, 2016, a 64-year-old master spy and known scourge of the Kremlin ambled into a Walmart in Florida and acquired a recreational fishing license."
The big reveal:
The bigger picture:
And if this all sounds familiar: "... the Directorate S program has inspired the award-winning television series The Americans."
Melania Trump waves to children in Malawi. She's on her first visit to Africa. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
"I see that some of your colleagues are pushing the theory that Mr. Skripal is almost some kind of human rights activist. He is just a spy. A traitor to the motherland. There is such a thing — a traitor to the motherland. Here he is — one of them."— Vladimir Putin on Sergei Skripal, the former double agent poisoned in the U.K.