WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio on Friday accused Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is scheduled to make a state visit to Washington next month, of stepping up a campaign to push the United States out of Asia.
Rubio, a foreign policy hawk, called on President Barack Obama "to speak bluntly to this authoritarian ruler" and downgrade Xi's visit by scrapping a planned state dinner at the White House.
Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, accused Xi of trying to undermine U.S. influence in Asia by asserting Chinese control over disputed territories in the East and South China Seas.
"Under Xi Jinping's rule, China has intensified its campaign to push America out of Asia, denouncing our long-standing alliances with other democracies like Japan and the Philippines," he said in a speech to a business group in South Carolina.
Rubio is a Cuban-American who has several "neo-conservative" advisers linked to the administration of former President George W. Bush. He is polling in the top half of the 17 Republicans vying for the party's nomination for the November 2016 presidential election.
He promised to end "sequestration" defense cuts and restore U.S. military spending to earlier levels.
"Doing so will allow us to neutralize the threat posed by China's rapidly growing forces and capabilities. We'll ensure that our carrier fleet is sufficient to support forward deployment of a second carrier to the Pacific," he said.
Rubio also vowed to fortify U.S. cyber defenses "to pressure China to halt its use of commercial espionage as a tool of statecraft."
U.S. complaints about Chinese cyber spying will be high on the agenda when Xi meets U.S. leaders during his visit, expected toward the end of September.
While the world's two largest economies have important mutual interests, like trying to rein in North Korea's nuclear program, deep disagreements exist over issues from Internet security to China's claims in the South China Sea.
Another Republican candidate, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, called this week for Obama to cancel Xi's trip altogether because China is a strategic competitor.
China has also come under fire from Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who accuses it of stealing U.S. jobs. Property mogul Trump also says volatility in U.S. stocks in recent days is due to over-exposure to China where markets have plummeted on worries about the economy.