The Washington Post's Josh Rogin has revealed stunning comments issued by Vice President Mike Pence during a conversation between the two aboard Air Force Two as the VP traveled for an official trip to Asia this week, where he landed in Singapore for regional summits highlighting Indo-Pacific security, trade and investment.
Pence reportedly said the White House is prepared to undertake take dramatic policy changes regarding China if Beijing does not capitulate to its demands as the trade war continues. In addition to the issue of tariffs, pressing security issues include the US demanding Chinese cessation of what's reported to be widespread intellectual property theft and refusal to recognized America freedom of navigation through and above the South China Sea.
According to Rogin, Pence went so far as to speak of "an all-out Cold War" during the interview, promising that:
If China wants to avoid an all-out cold war with the United States and its partners, it must fundamentally change its behavior, according to Vice President Pence. The United States, he assured me, won’t back down.
Threat of initiating a "cold war" with China is one thing when analysts and op-ed pages have thrown the term into the public square of late; however, its quite another, constituting dramatically escalatory rhetoric, when the vice president of the United States says it. It represents a dangerous crescendo after months of rapid downward spiraling Washington-Beijing relations, and at a time when Russia is demonstrating its increasingly cooperative stance of solidarity with China.
The words also come weeks before Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping are expected to meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on November 30. Given the timing, we could also be witnessing the administration laying the groundwork for Trump's classic "arguing from the extremes" to pressure foreign leaders to give up more during negotiations.
According to Rogin's op-ed:
Pence told me in an interview that Trump is leaving the door open for a deal with Xi in Argentina, but only if Beijing is willing to make massive changes that the United States is demanding in its economic, military and political activities. The vice president said this is China’s best (if not last) chance to avoid a cold-war scenario with the United States.
Referencing the G20 meeting, Pence said, "I think much of that will depend on Argentina.” In what is a clear message to Beijing ahead of the face-to-face meeting, Pence described: “The president’s attitude is, we want to make sure they know where we stand, what we are prepared to do, so they can come to Argentina with concrete proposals that address not just the trade deficit that we face… We’re convinced China knows where we stand.”
The US, Pence said further, is “in a strong position” for a potential escalation of the trade war it has already ongoing and vowed President Trump "won't back down". Hinting that Washington has much more in its arsenal, Pence continued: “We really believe we are in a strong position either way. We are at $250 billion [in tariffs] now; we can more than double that,” and affirmed, “I don’t think it’s a matter of promises. We’re looking for results. We’re looking for a change of posture,” according to the interview.
China, however, has not shown a pattern of easily conceding to threats — in fact it's demonstrated a willingness and resolve to risk confrontation with the West — the latest case in point being responding to US tariffs with its won protectionist measures, or in other instances aggressively intercepting US aircraft and navel vessels while laying claim to international waters as sovereign Chinese territory.
With now explicit talk of a US-China "all out Cold War" coming from the administration it's past time to remember "Thucydides Trap" theorist and author Graham Allison's warning:
"If Thucydides were watching, he’d likely say all parties almost seem to be competing to show who can best exemplify the role as rising power, ruling power, and provocateur."
— Graham Allison
This could easily lead to the following scenario base on the slightest provocation, according to Professor Allison: "What happens is that a third-party provocation, an accident, becomes a trigger to which one of the two feels obliged to respond and they find themselves in a war that neither wanted."