VP hopefuls' China record restrained

Updated: 2016-10-05 11:52

By Chen Weihua in Washington and Bloomberg(China Daily USA)

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VP hopefuls' China record restrained

Democratic US vice-presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine (left) of Virginia and Republican vice-presidential nominee Governor Mike Pence of Indiana shake hands as they arrive for their debate on Tuesday at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

While US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have used China as a bogeyman on campaign trails, their running mates, Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine, are much less known when it comes to China policy.

Pence and Kaine squared off in Virginia on Tuesday night in the only vice-presidential debate of the campaign.

A probe into their track records as governors and congressmen shows that neither has so far been a radical regarding China.

The US China Business Council (USCBC), an organization representing US companies investing and trading in China, described Pence's voting record on trade with China during his 12 years as a congressman as favorable.

Back in 2001, Pence, in his first year as a member of the House of Representatives, spoke in favor of extending China's normal trade relations (NTR) status an additional year, citing the benefits of trade with China.

In 2010, Pence joined a minority of Republicans who opposed a bill to impose tariffs on countries that manipulate their exchange rates for trade advantage.

The congressman from Indiana was also found to consistently vote to extend trade promotion authority (TPA), which allows expedited consideration of free-trade agreements in Congress.

After Pence was selected as Trump's running mate, the US Chamber of Commerce said "it's hard to find a better advocate for trade than Governor Mike Pence".

Pence, however, has recently moderated his previous support for trade, including questioning the wisdom of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement between the US and 11 Pacific Rim nations, excluding China.

From May 9-16, 2015, Pence led a Indiana trade mission to China. "Outside of the United States, China represents the largest economy in the world.

Today we see immense potential for the creation of more great jobs for Hoosiers through the strengthening of ties with our Chinese partners," he said in a statement posted on the governor's website.

"Our universities and our communities already boast a thriving friendship with China, and we're looking forward to strengthening this relationship on our jobs mission,"

In China, Pence visited Beijing, Shanghai and Zhejiang province, a sister state for Indiana dating back to 1987, and engaged with business and government leaders and potential investors and cultural events.

China is a major trading partner for Indiana, and many Chinese students now study in Indiana-based universities. At Indiana University, 3,100 Chinese students were enrolled on the Bloomington campus in 2014, accounting for 36 percent of all international students.

Some of Indiana's top schools, such as Indiana University, Purdue University and the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology have educational partnerships with Zhejiang province.

Meanwhile, many Indiana businesses have invested in China. The Indianapolis-headquartered pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly has a research and development center in Shanghai.

But in May this year, Pence called for an investigation into Pittsburgh-based US Steel's allegations of international trade law violations by China. Pence claims that unfair trade practices impact Indiana's steel industry, which employs nearly 23,000 workers.

Comparatively, the Spanish-speaking Kaine as a senator has focused much on Latin America and the Middle East. And his views on trade have been described by the USCBC report as "consistently positive, although measured".

Kaine voted in 2015 in the Senate for TPA. However, Kaine did not declare a position on TPP until he announced his opposition after his selection as Clinton's running mate.

Kaine's few comments regarding China also have been described by the USCBC report as "balanced, highlighting both the cooperation and tension in the relationship".

In 2015, Kaine listed China as one that needs to be "skillfully challenged" and saying "that sometimes means cooperate, sometimes compete, sometimes confront".

On July 12, Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Armed Services Committee, issued a statement on The Hague tribunal decision on the South China Sea in a case brought by the Philippines against China. While applauding the ruling, Kaine called on Congress to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

On Feb 10 this year, Kaine issued a statement on North Korea, in which he said China has the most leverage and should use it.

Back on Nov 12, 2014, Kaine released a statement applauding the US-China agreement to control carbon pollution.

During their feisty debate on Tuesday, Pence and Kaine moved quickly into attack mode during their only debate with a series of exchanges that were every bit as combative as last week's meeting between Clinton and Trump.

Pence and Kaine presented themselves as character witnesses for their running mates while also getting in jabs at the top of each others' tickets that at times overran attempts by the moderator to focus on the questions being asked.

Kaine was the more aggressive debater, repeatedly asking Pence to defend the actions of the Republican presidential nominee. Pence mostly didn't take the bait and managed to keep his cool and avoid being defensive in the face of Kaine's attacks. Instead, he managed to stay on message with extended answers, even on controversial topics like immigration and police bias, and turn the tables back to Clinton.

"He says ours is an insult-driven campaign," Pence said. "To be honest with you, if Donald Trump had said all the things that you said he said in the way you said he said them, he still wouldn't have a fraction of the insults that Hillary Clinton leveled when she said that half of our supporters were a basket of deplorables. She said they were irredeemable, they were not America. It's extraordinary."

Contact the writer at chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com