Washington: China has fast become a top election issue as President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden engage in a verbal brawl over who’s better at playing the tough guy against Beijing.
The Trump campaign put out ads showing Biden toasting China’s Xi Jinping, even though Trump did just that with Xi in Asia and hosted the Chinese leader at his Florida club. Spots from the Biden campaign feature Trump playing down the coronavirus and praising Xi for being transparent about the pandemic, even though it’s clear China hid details of the outbreak from the world.
“I think it’s going to be absolutely critical, but I don’t know who is going to have the advantage,” said Republican pollster Frank Luntz. He has been reviewing the ads and thinks China is one of the three leading issues along with the economy and the handling of the coronavirus.
China is not just a foreign policy issue in the November election. It’s an issue that runs deeply through the troubles with the virus, which tanked the US economy.
Voters also will be asking themselves whether Trump or Biden can best defend the US against China’s unfair trade practices, theft of intellectual property rights, rising aggression across the globe and human rights abuses.
“Which person looks more subservient to the Chinese leaders is the person who’s in more jeopardy,” Luntz said.
As the coronavirus spread throughout the US, a Pew Research Center poll in March found Americans with increasingly negative views of China, with 66 per cent saying they had an unfavorable opinion. That was the most negative rating since the question was first asked in 2005. The same poll found 62 per cent of Americans calling China’s power and influence a major threat to the US, compared with 48 per cent two years ago.
A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in late May and early June found registered voters about evenly divided over which of the candidates would be better at dealing with China, with 43 per cent saying Trump compared with 40 per cent for Biden. In the poll, 5 percent viewed Trump and Biden equally, while 10 per cent said neither would be good.
Trump’s advisers see China as an opportunity to portray Biden as deferential to Beijing when he was President Barack Obama’s vice president and point person on Asia, according to three campaign officials and Republicans close to the White House. The campaign made a push in May to link Biden with China, complete with an advertising blitz, but the effort did little to raise Trump’s poll numbers.
The Trump campaign credits the president with signing the first phase of a trade deal with China in January, which boosted stock markets and seemingly ended a bruising trade war. Republicans want to tether Biden to past multinational agreements and trade deals blamed for an exodus of manufacturing jobs across the Midwest. Trump campaign officials believe they missed that opportunity in trying to wrest Midwest states from the Democrats in 2016.
The White House lists more than two dozen actions the administration has taken since April to protect US jobs, businesses and US supply chains from damage caused by the Chinese Communist Party’s policies. That includes last week’s move to impose sanctions on Chinese officials for their roles in repressing religious and ethnic minorities.