Vice President Mike Pence plans hawkish China speech as trade tensions boil

Key Points
  • Vice President Mike Pence is planning a hawkish speech on China during which he is expected to censure China's human rights record. 
  • The remarks would come amid an increasingly tense trade conflict between the world's two largest economies. 
Vice President Mike Pence waves to the audience at the end of his commencement speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, May 11, 2019.
Jonathan Drake | Reuters

Vice President Mike Pence is planning a speech around the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The remarks are expected to be a censure of China's religious freedom and human rights record from one of the Trump administration's highest-ranking China hawks. They are set to come amid rising trade tensions between the world's two largest economies.

A White House official confirmed a Pence speech is in the works – potentially in mid-June, following the anniversary – but declined to comment on its contents.

VP Pence's chief of staff on Huawei's legal case against the US

The Pentagon has estimated China has detained up to 3 million members of its minority Muslim population, known as Uighurs, in camps in the Xinjiang autonomous region. The administration has raised concerns about certain companies' assisting the Chinese government in those efforts. The New York Times and Bloomberg report that the White House is mulling penalties for up to five companies — including camera maker Hikvision — involved in the surveillance of China's Uighur population.

In a statement provided to CNBC, Hikvision says it "takes these concerns very seriously and has engaged with the U.S. government regarding all of this since last October." The company also says it has retained human rights expert and former U.S. Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper as an advisor.

It's unclear how soon the White House could unveil the new sanctions, and whether the vice president's speech would be a possible venue for doing so.

The speech would mark the latest escalation in a rhetorical tit-for-tat between Washington and Beijing. China has ratcheted up its threats against the U.S. in state media and is preparing to hike tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. goods on Saturday.

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Huawei executives of lying about the company's ties to the Chinese government. Amid the rising tensions, Beijing warned the U.S. on Wednesday about a prolonged trade war.

"Don't say we didn't warn you!" the People's Daily state newspaper wrote in a commentary piece.

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