MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
With all of the week's remarkable political developments, it might have been easy to miss Vice President Mike Pence's blistering speech directed at China this week. He issued an indictment of the Chinese government, criticizing China for everything from forcing American companies to give up intellectual property to trying to chase off the U.S. Navy.
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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: China wants nothing less than to push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies, but they will fail.
MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt spent a decade reporting in China, and he's here with us now in our studios in Washington, D.C., to tell us more about the administration's case and why the speech was so remarkable.
Frank, thank you so much for being here.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Michel - great to be here.
MARTIN: Well, what is the significance of Vice President Pence's speech, and why now?
LANGFITT: It's so striking - the tone. If you went back, if you look back over 30 years, 40 years of diplomacy, Americans were actually quite careful not to be directly confrontational. This is very, very confrontational, very aggressive. It almost has a feel to me of a Reagan evil empire speech. What it's signaling is he sees China as the greatest threat to the United States.
And in terms of the why now, later in the speech, he talked about - Vice President Pence talked about China trying to influence the midterm elections, though he didn't provide any solid evidence, and that could be a pretext of blaming a bad result for Republicans on China. But there's a much bigger picture here that we should be talking about.
MARTIN: I'm going to hold that thought for a minute, but...
MARTIN: ...I wanted to ask you, have you seen a shift in how the Trump administration has been dealing with China?
PENCE: What I see with the Trump administration is it coincides with a sea change in attitude among scholars in the United States, American businesses. In the old days, you're going back to the '90s, 2000s, American business was extremely supportive of the Communist Party. They're making a lot of money there. They now feel that the playing field is not level at all. They do feel sometimes held up to give up intellectual property. So there's been a big shift here in attitude towards China. And I really think actually Beijing is just catching up to it.
MARTIN: So you're saying that the sea change is not just this administration's attitude. It goes beyond that. In fact, there was a clip from Vice President Pence's speech where he spoke to that. Let's play it.
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PENCE: The Chinese Communist Party is rewarding or coercing American businesses, movie studios, universities, think tanks, scholars, journalists and local state and federal officials.
MARTIN: Is that true? Can you give us some examples?
LANGFITT: Absolutely. And some of it is self-censorship. I'll give you an example with - in movies. There are a lot of movies that you might have made in the '90s, early 2000s that might have been critical of China. You couldn't get the financing for them now because the Chinese audience has grown so much for movies. It's so important to the bottom line of a global film. A great example would be a remake of a movie called "Red Dawn" in which the Chinese soldiers were to invade America. In post-production, they had to change the Chinese soldiers to North Korean soldiers because there's no way the Chinese government would have ever let that movie into China.
MARTIN: What about academics, scholars?
LANGFITT: Absolutely it is. And journalists, too - it is - it's much harder now. Getting visas can be more difficult. They use them as a way to punish scholars who write about subjects that they don't like - about - like Xinjiang, a far western area in China, as well as Tibet and Taiwan. And so there is certainly a feeling that some scholars do self-censor in order to get visas. Others are very brave and are willing to not be able to get visas to go in.
MARTIN: So one more question, Frank.
MARTIN: The U.S., as you know, is very focused on Russian influence in elections and Russian efforts to interfere with U.S. elections. When it comes to undermining confidence in democracy - particularly, let's say, in the United States - which country is the bigger concern, Russia or China?
LANGFITT: Well, I think Russia has been very overt about it. I think China - what's concerning about China is that it's much more of a challenge. It also would like to undermine the message of the United States, which is freedom and democracy - the difference being that Russia does not have a business plan. It's a relatively small - compared to China - in terms of economy. China's an enormous economy getting very close to surpassing ours in the future. And they're also a much more sophisticated and well-run country, and so I think it's a much, much greater challenge. But, these days, because of what happened in the 2016 election, this is what we focus on, which is Russia.
MARTIN: That's NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt visiting with us here in Washington, D.C.
Frank, thank you so much.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.