October 02, 2018

Is China Really Meddling in U.S. Elections?

Featuring Abigail Grace

Source: Foreign Policy

Journalist Elias Groll

When U.S. President Donald Trump slapped steel tariffs on the European Union this spring, Brussels responded with what it hoped would be a politically painful set of retaliatory measures—tariffs targeting bourbon made in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s backyard and Harley-Davidson motorcycles from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s home state. It was a clear message to Trump’s two most powerful allies on Capitol Hill.

But at the time, no one in the Trump administration complained that the Europeans were meddling in the U.S. political process.

Yet when China responded to its own set of Trump tariffs by purchasing a China Daily insert in the Des Moines Register in Iowa that highlighted the mutual benefits of U.S.-China trade, a whole new front in the trade war opened up. Speaking before the United Nations Security Council last week, Trump accused the Chinese of attempting to undermine Republican candidates in the November elections.

“They do not want me or us to win, because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade,” Trump declared.

True, Iowa is a sensitive place in the U.S. political calculus; it is the first presidential caucus state and a key bellwether of Midwestern electoral trends at a time when Trump and the Republicans are fearful of losing the House of Representatives in next month’s midterm elections.

But the Beijing-funded China Daily has been buying inserts in local papers around the world for years. And there is little other evidence to back up Trump’s claims about Chinese election interference. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, merely shrugged at Trump’s accusation and said: “We do not and will not interfere in any countries’ domestic affairs.”

Nor did White House officials identify any specific Chinese activity that would rise to the level of election interference. In a statement to Foreign Policy, a spokesman for the National Security Council accused the Chinese government of “using all kinds of methods to try to get us to turn back our policies,” including by “targeting tariffs and retaliation at farmers and workers in states and districts that voted for President Trump.”

“Besides the unjustified trade retaliation, China is trying to exploit what they think are divisions between the Administration, state and local governments, and the U.S. business community, on our policies, which are targeting China for their decades of bad behavior,” the statement said.

Read the full article and more from Foreign Policy.

  • Abigail Grace

    Research Associate, Asia-Pacific Security Program

    Abigail Grace is a Research Associate in the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for New American Security (CNAS). Her work focuses on U.S. strategic competition with ...