Vice President Mike Pence outlined an aggressive policy against China on Thursday that appeared to contrast with the more measured position taken by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis earlier this week.
Pence accused China of marshaling a wide range of military and non-military means to advance its interests and undermine those of the U.S., including attempts to influence the upcoming elections.
"As we speak, Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States," Pence said in an address to the conservative Hudson Institute.
He cited China's military buildup on artificial islands in the South China Sea and attempts to limit free navigation, saying the moves reflect China's determination to challenge the U.S. in "more proactive ways than ever before."
The main target of China's trade and military policies is President Donald Trump, Pence said. "President Trump's leadership is working and China wants a different American president."
He also cited the incident in the South China Sea earlier this week in which the Chinese destroyer Luyang came within 45 yards of colliding with the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Decatur near the contested Spratly Islands.
The Luyang "conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for Decatur to depart the area," Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a statement. "The PRC [People's Republic of China] destroyer approached within 45 yards of Decatur's bow, after which Decatur maneuvered to prevent a collision."
In response, Mattis canceled an upcoming scheduled trip to China, but he also downplayed the significance of the incident in terms of military-to-military relationships.
He told reporters traveling with him in Paris on Tuesday, "There's tension points in the relationship, but based on discussions coming out of New York last week [at the United Nations] and other things that we have coming up, we do not see it getting worse," The Associated Press reported.
Mattis added, "We'll sort this out."
Last month, he also appeared to be odds with the White House on Syria policy while maintaining that there were no major differences.
White House National Security Adviser John Bolton had just announced that the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria would remain there until Iranian forces and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia withdrew.
At one of his informal sessions with Pentagon reporters, Mattis later said the U.S. presence is mainly contingent upon the defeat of ISIS, but he stressed that there was "no daylight" between his position and Bolton's.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.