Xi Jinping

The U.S. straight-arming of China

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For decades, the U.S. and China have circled uneasily as current and future global superpowers. Now, President Trump's continued escalation of actions against Beijing threatens to push the two powers close to direct conflict.

Driving the news: This week, the U.S. took perhaps its most provocative action yet, springing a trap in Belgium that captured Yanjun Xu, a senior Chinese intelligence operative, and arraigning him in Cincinnati for economic espionage. This afternoon, Xu pleaded not guilty.

U.S. and China drop the pretense: It's us vs. them

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.