Pence to Delay China Human-Rights Speech Ahead of Trump-Xi Talks

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Vice President Mike Pence has postponed a speech planned for Monday criticizing China’s human rights record as a result of progress in conversations over trade between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump and Pence decided the speech should be delivered after Trump and Xi talk on the sidelines of next week’s Group of 20 meeting in Japan, a White House official said. The speech, to be delivered at the Wilson Center in Washington, already had been postponed from June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

“The vice president’s office is postponing Monday’s speech due to progress in conversations between President Trump and President Xi,” according to a statement from the Wilson Center. Pence is looking forward to delivering the speech “in the near future.”

Trump said Tuesday that he had a “very good” phone conversation with Xi and that the two leaders will hold an “extended meeting” at the G-20 summit on June 28-29 in Osaka. The U.S. president had repeatedly threatened additional trade tariffs if Xi spurned the opportunity to talk.

Xi said he’s willing to meet with Trump and exchange views, the state-run China Central Television reported.

The speech delays illustrate the tightrope Trump is attempting to walk with China and Xi. Trump has portrayed the country as the greatest threat to U.S. military and economic hegemony, embarking on a trade war to wrestle concessions from Beijing following decades of what American lawmakers in both parties call unfair, deceptive and outright illegal trade practices.

But Trump also has repeatedly hailed what he says is a close personal relationship with Xi, and he is acutely aware of the potential economic and political costs, ahead of his 2020 re-election, if he can’t reach a deal with the Chinese leader.

Trade talks broke off last month after the U.S. accused China’s leaders of reneging on provisions of a tentative trade agreement, and Beijing said the U.S. raised its demands. Trump raised tariffs on about $200 billion of Chinese imports to 25%, and said he would expand the tariffs to cover another $325 billion in goods — essentially everything the country exports to the U.S. — unless Chinese leaders reversed course.

Trump has said that China must return to concessions it made in earlier rounds of talks. The U.S. president has repeated his claim that Chinese exporters pay the tariffs, disputing the consensus of economists that the costs are largely borne by U.S. importers and consumers.

Beijing responded with a paper that said the U.S. continuously moved goal posts in the talks and demanded concessions that would go against the spirit of “mutual respect.” The country has said it will respond in-kind to Trump’s retaliatory tariffs, and has threatened to label unspecified U.S. companies as “unreliable entities” in China.

Trump originally decided to push back the June 4 address, people familiar with the planning previously said. A speech by a top U.S. official on the 30th anniversary of the day Chinese troops fired on student protesters in Tiananmen Square would have been regarded as a provocation in Beijing, where government censors have endeavored to erase the national memory of the event.

In a major speech last year, Pence described China as an authoritarian surveillance state that oppresses its citizenry at home and abroad, while challenging the U.S. across the globe both economically and militarily.

Previous American leaders had opened U.S. markets to Beijing “in the hope that freedom in China would expand in all of its forms,” the vice president said at the time. “But that hope has gone unfulfilled. The dream of freedom remains distant for the Chinese people.”
Chinese officials were surprised at the tone of Pence’s earlier speech and confused about the direction of relations with Washington.

— With assistance by Jenny Leonard

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