Pence took the stage after Xi at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea.
The U.S. trade deficit has increased for the fourth straight month as both countries have imposed billions of dollars worth of tariffs on respective imports.
“The United States, though, will not change course until China changes its ways,” Pence said.
Toward the end of the his speech, Pence spoke out against China’s transcontinental infrastructure project called the Belt and Road Initiative, warning countries about accepting Chinese loans for port and transportation products from Pakistan to Indonesia, and military activity in the South China Sea.
“We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt. We don’t coerce or compromise your independence,” Pence said. “We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road.”
Xi’s speech was more conciliatory.
“Confrontation, whether in the form of a hot war, cold war or trade war, will produce no winners,” he said.
Xi also dismissed Pence’s rebuke of the Belt and Road project as a debt “trap.”
The initiative “is not for geopolitical purposes; it will exclude no one; it will not close a door and create a small circle,” Xi said. “It is not the so-called trap, as some people say. It is the sunshine avenue where China shares opportunities with the world to seek common development.”
Pence acknowledged that U.S.-China competition is “felt” by many Asian countries and said that the United States would like to develop a better relationship with Bejing.
Trump and Xi will meet at the Group of 20 conference in Argentina later this month to attempt to defuse the trade war.
“China knows where we stand,” Pence said. “As the president prepares to meet with President Xi at the G-20 Summit in Argentina, we believe that progress could be made.”