World News

Why is Mike Pence playing "bad cop" on China?

Mike Pence is America's "bad cop" on China.

Posted Updated

Analysis by Stephen Collinson
Caitlin Hu, CNN
CNN — Mike Pence is America's "bad cop" on China.

While President Donald Trump boasts of his rapport with China's Xi Jinping, his vice president's hawkishness has sparked speculation in the past about a new Cold War. On Thursday, Pence was at it again, blasting China over its treatment of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang and accusing Beijing of crushing human rights and liberties in Hong Kong.

The biggest headline came when Pence said the NBA had acted like a "wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime" -- alluding to how it had handled an incendiary tweet by the Houston Rockets' general manager. Pence also accused Nike of putting profit above its social justice principles in China.

Such tough talk could jeopardize a critical moment in US-China relations: Trump hopes to sign a trade deal with Xi next month. But the speech might be more designed for domestic political positioning than redefining US-China relations.

Sign up here for more analysis of US politics for global readers

Pence's comments come after months of hostility between the NBA and the Trump administration. NBA players have criticized Trump over his racial rhetoric and several teams have refused to make traditional White House visits to celebrate their championships. And rapping China over religious freedom is a layup for the fervent Christian -- who also seeks the favor of religiously inclined elements of Trump's voter base.

Trump promised this year to stay quiet on Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests during trade talks, so using Pence for the job could give the President some political leeway. There's also speculation that Trump's proposed trade deal with Xi is far from the "massive" pact that he claims, and is in fact a climbdown to preserve his 2020 election hopes as Midwest farmers suffer and tariffs hit household budgets. In that case, having Pence upbraid the Communist giant might give Trump cover to argue that no administration has been tougher on China -- while spinning away criticism of a disappointing deal.

'We don't even want it in the White House anymore'

That's what Trump said about The New York Times earlier this week, on the Fox News show "Hannity." Four days later, it turns out the White House is really urging federal agencies to cancel their subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post -- two major newspapers that the President has repeatedly criticized for perceived bias against him. (The news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.)

"Not renewing subscriptions across all federal agencies will be a significant cost saving for taxpayers -- hundreds of thousands of dollars," said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

'Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!'

Trump on Thursday tweeted that he had "really enjoyed" a conversation with Kurdish Gen. Mazloum Kobani Abdi after US forces withdrew from the region, leaving Turkey and Russia to police an area once controlled by the Kurds. "Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!" he concluded.

Though bringing American troops home has been cited as the priority in recent weeks, defense officials also told CNN's Barbara Starr on Thursday that the US may send tanks to protect oil fields in another part of Syria. "We will NEVER let a reconstituted ISIS have those fields!" Trump tweeted separately.

'It's nonsense. Bulls**t'

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has made pretty clear that he's tired of Brexit back-and-forth and thinks it's a terrible idea. In his last official speech at the European Policy Center, he described the UK's imminent departure from the European Union as "a shame," for which "all of us will pay the price."

He also described some British politicians as outright liars. "If day after day you are reading in your papers that the place of the British is not really in Europe, but that they are there for economic and internal market reasons, and all the rest -- it's nonsense. Bulls**t," he said.

It's beginning to look a lot like ... an election

Christmas decorations are starting to come up in the UK (yes, it starts really early here), and along with the nutcrackers and fake snow may come ballot papers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday that he would move to call a general election on December 12, which he hopes will give him a much-needed majority in Parliament. He has otherwise run out of options to get Brexit done, and is therefore dangling in exchange what the opposition parties want: more time to look over his Brexit deal. But for now, he's a long way from even getting his election motion passed, which requires the assent of two-thirds of Parliament. -- by CNN's Hadas Gold

'Perhaps this place and this country would be better served with a few more unexpected friendships'

The body of the late Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland lay in state Thursday, drawing emotional statements from legislators on both sides of the aisle. Republican Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina said that he and Cummings had "an unexpected friendship" -- but that "for those of us who know Elijah, it's not unexpected or surprising."

Number of the day: 47%

Nearly half of Americans surveyed in a new Quinnipiac poll say the Democratic Party has moved too far left. Of course, it's still less than half, but as CNN's Chris Cillizza writes, the figure "should be worrisome for a Democratic Party establishment already worried that several of their leading presidential candidates are too liberal for the country at large."

Copyright 2023 by Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.