WASHINGTON—The Trump administration took aim at Google Thursday, calling on the tech giant to halt development of a project it said would accelerate censorship efforts in China.
In a speech that outlined the White House’s long list of frustrations and grievances with Beijing, Vice President Mike Pence called on companies to reconsider business practices in the world’s second-largest economy that involve turning over intellectual property or “abetting Beijing’s oppression.”
“For example, Google should immediately end development of the Dragonfly app that will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers,” Mr. Pence said in his speech at the Hudson Institute, a conservative, Washington-based think tank focused on security and economic issues.
Mr. Pence’s speech was the latest sign from the White House that the warm relations between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping haven’t trickled through the administration ranks. Trade tensions between the two countries have been escalating for months, and disputes continue over military cooperation, espionage and territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Mr. Pence said Thursday that China is working to remove Mr. Trump from office and described a broad effort to influence political opinion and manipulate academic institutions and U.S. companies.
Last week, President Trump accused China of trying to interfere in the U.S. midterm elections in November to hurt him and the Republican Party in retaliation for his stance on trade.
Senate Democrats asked the Trump administration Thursday for evidence to support assertions of election meddling. In a letter to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, three senators asked whether the accusation from Mr. Trump “aligns with the intelligence community’s assessments of Beijing’s intentions, plans and activities.”
Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Kamala Harris of California, who all serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked for a response by Oct. 8 “so that the public and members of Congress have the information in advance of the election.”
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the letter had been received and that Mr. Coats would respond to it. Chinese officials have said they don’t interfere internally in other countries.
In a project dubbed “Dragonfly,” Google is testing a mobile version of its search engine that would adhere to China’s strict censors. While it has drawn pointed questions from a bipartisan group of senators, Mr. Pence’s speech was the first public condemnation from the White House.
A spokeswoman for Google, a unit of
declined to comment on Mr. Pence’s speech and instead referred to a previous statement that described the company’s work as exploratory and “not close to launching a search product in China.”
Mr. Pence repeated Mr. Trump’s warning that U.S. tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports could increase, and vowed the White House would “stand strong” to support national security.
Beijing, Mr. Pence said, “is also taking steps to exploit its economic leverage, and the allure of China’s large domestic market, to advance its influence over American corporations.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis canceled a trip to China, and President Trump accused China of election interference. The WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains how U.S.-China tensions are rising. Photo: Getty
He said Delta Air Lines was forced to apologize for not identifying Taiwan as a “province of China,” and Marriott was pressured to fire a U.S. employee who used a company account to “like” a Tibetan separatist group’s Twitter post.
Mr. Pence criticized Chinese censors who object to criticism “even in minor ways,” pointing to the 2012 remake of the iconic 1984 movie “Red Dawn” that was digitally edited to portray North Korea as the villain, instead of China. He also accused China of seeking to “foster a culture of censorship” in academia. He cited a speech from Yang Shuping, a University of Maryland student from China who became a target of criticism there after praising the “fresh air of free speech” in America.
He said Ms. Yang was the “victim of a firestorm of criticism” on China’s tightly controlled social media and her family back home was harassed.
He said the Hudson Institute was the target of a suspected cyberattack from Shanghai after it hosted an event with Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese businessman and political dissident who has alleged corruption within China’s leadership. “You know better than most that the Chinese Communist Party is trying to undermine academic freedom and the freedom of speech in America today,” Mr. Pence told the group.
Write to Michael C. Bender at [email protected]
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