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Pence takes aim at China in wide-ranging critique ahead of trade talks

Credit: REUTERS/HUSEYIN ALDEMIR

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday accused China of curtailing "rights and liberties" in Hong Kong in a wide-ranging critique of Beijing's behavior but also insisted that the United States does not seek confrontation or to "de-couple" from its main economic rival.

By Alexandra Alper

WASHINGTON, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday accused China of curtailing "rights and liberties" in Hong Kong in a wide-ranging critique of Beijing's behavior but also insisted that the United States does not seek confrontation or to "de-couple" from its main economic rival.

Pence delivered his second major policy address on China in just over a year, this one just ahead of a new round of talks aimed at resolving a bitter trade war between the world's two biggest economies.

"No longer will America and its leaders hope that economic engagement alone will transform Communist China’s authoritarian state into a free and open society that respects private property, the rule of law, and the international rules of commerce," Pence said.

Pence said, however, the United States is "not seeking to contain China’s development" "We want a constructive relationship with China’s leaders," he said, calling on China to "seize this unique moment in history to start anew by ending the trade practices that have taken advantage of the American people for far too long."

The closely watched speech to a Washington think tank comes ahead of a new round of talks between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his counterparts on Friday and was being seen as a gauge of how tough the Trump administration is prepared to get with China on a wide range of issues.

Pence, who has often struck a hawkish tone on China, spoke just weeks before U.S. President Donald Trump is due to attend a summit in Chile where he has said he hopes to close a "phase one" trade deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Fears of antagonizing Beijing prompted the White House in June to postpone the speech ahead of a meeting between the leaders aimed at getting trade talks back on track.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper Editing by Alistair Bell)

((Alexandra.Alper@thomsonreuters.com; +1(202)354-5865; Reuters Messaging: alexandra.alper.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net - https://twitter.com/alexalper?lang=en))

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