U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused China of "meddling in America’s democracy," in a wide-ranging speech Thursday.

"China has initiated an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections," Pence said in a speech at the conservative Hudson Institute.

Pence also slammed China’s militarization of contested areas in the South and East China Sea, its practice of "debt diplomacy" in developing countries, and its efforts to convince other nations to sever ties with Taiwan.

The speech comes as the U.S. and China engage in an escalating trade dispute, after Washington imposed tariffs on Chinese imports and Beijing retaliated with its own taxes on American goods.

The Trump administration particularly takes issue with China’s tactic of imposing tariffs on products produced by some of the U.S. president’s key supporters, such as farmers in the midwestern United States.

Last week, President Donald Trump accused China of attempting to interfere in U.S. politics. As evidence, he pointed to a recent advertisement that a Chinese state media outlet placed in the Des Moines Register, an Iowa newspaper. The ad, which was designed to look like part of a series of news stories, criticized Trump’s trade approach and said it hurt local farmers.

"As a senior career member of our intelligence community recently told me, what the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country," Pence told an audience at the Hudson Institute, a conservative research organization.

According to Pence, the U.S. intelligence community says China is "targeting U.S. state and local governments and officials to exploit any divisions between federal and local levels on policy."

"To that end, Beijing has mobilized covert actors, front groups, and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policies," Pence said.

Pence also said China’s navy engaged in "reckless harassment" this week when a Chinese naval vessel came within about 40 meters of a U.S. ship in the South China Sea.

"The United States Navy will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand," Pence said. "Will not be intimidated. We will not stand down."

Source: VOA news

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