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At UN, Trump accuses China of attempting to meddle in US midterm elections

China stiffly denied the US President's accusation

Mark Landler | NYT 

Trump
Donald Trump holds a news conference on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, US | Photo: Reuters

President Trump on Wednesday accused a foreign power of meddling in an American election: not Russia, but China.

The Chinese, Mr. Trump claimed, were trying to damage his political standing before the midterm elections because of his imposition of tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese goods. Speaking at the Security Council, where China’s foreign minister was also present, he said, “They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president to ever challenge China on trade.”

It was not the first time the president has accused the Chinese of meddling in the nation’s affairs: He has complained that in response to his tariffs, it had imposed retaliatory ones aimed at American farmers and other politically sensitive constituencies in states that support him. But he has never leveled the accusation so bluntly or in such a high-profile setting.

Mr. Trump did not suggest that China’s behavior was on the scale of Russia’s sophisticated campaign of manipulating social media and the release of hacked emails during the

And he did not even mention Russia’s interference, even though its foreign minister was also at the council session, and it has been identified for its meddling by American intelligence agencies — a fact that Mr. Trump only halfheartedly acknowledges.

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“Well, I think it’s different,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference later in the day, when he was asked to compare the Chinese and Russian efforts.

Still, by raising the specter of interference in the midterms, he reintroduced the notion that a foreign power could alter the outcome of an

The president’s accusation hijacked a busy day of diplomacy at the — one in which Mr. Trump also reversed his position that North Korea needed to relinquish its nuclear weapons rapidly. He now said he had years to come to an agreement with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and would impose no timeline on the negotiations.

His remarks on China also raised questions about whether Mr. Trump was seeking to deflect attention from his other troubles or whether he genuinely fears for Republican prospects in November.

China stiffly denied the president’s accusation.

“We did not, and will not, interfere in any country’s domestic affairs,” the foreign minister, Wang Yi, said. “We refuse to accept any unwarranted accusations.”

The accusation was a discordant note in a council session that was supposed to be devoted to the threat of weapons of mass destruction. And it was at odds with Mr. Trump’s repeated claims that he has a thriving relationship with China’s president, Xi Jinping, who presumably has had a strong hand in the retaliatory actions taken by


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Yet Mr. Trump did not back down. After the meeting, he asserted in a tweet that the Chinese had placed an ad in The Des Moines Register and other papers, designed to resemble a news article, that highlighted the economic costs of Mr. Trump’s trade battle with China.

“That’s because we are beating them on Trade, opening markets, and the farmers will make a fortune when this is over!” he wrote.

The Chinese government, like others, has for years paid to publish newspaper supplements that portray its spin on the news.

Before a subsequent meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t like it when they attack our farmers,” referring to China.

He added, “They are trying to meddle in our elections, and we’re not going to let that happen, just as we’re not going to let that happen with Russia.”

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As if to underscore the rift with China, Mr. Trump announced that the and Japan had agreed to open negotiations for a trade agreement — something Japan has long resisted.

Mr. Trump did not accuse China of using its cybercapabilities to interfere in the midterm elections, and there is no evidence it has done so. The country has some of the most advanced capabilities among America’s cyberadversaries, and it has used them extensively to steal corporate secrets, obtain American weapons designs and monitor Chinese dissidents around the world.

China has also been accused of mounting politically related influence operations in Australia and New Zealand.

A senior administration official cited an array of other general Chinese propaganda efforts, including pressure on think tanks and film studios that distribute material critical of China, intimidation of Chinese-language media organizations in the United States, and influence campaigns on college campuses with students and teachers.

China and the have escalated their trade dispute in recent weeks, with Mr. Trump imposing tariffs on an additional $200 billion in Chinese exports to the United States, and China striking back with tariffs on $60 billion in American goods.

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In its early rounds of tariffs, China hit agricultural products, drawing an outcry from farm groups across the and consternation in many of the Midwestern and Plains states that Mr. Trump carried in 2016.

This month, the president’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, said the United States had seen efforts by China, as well as Iran, to interfere in elections, but would not comment on whether the countries had had an impact or what their agenda was.

“We’re monitoring it very, very closely,” Mr. Bolton said on Sept. 12. “It’s just an ongoing process.”

“What we see is the capability and attempts,” he continued. “But in terms of what the influence will be — is and will be — we continue to analyze all that.”

The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, regularly includes China on a list of countries with the capability of conducting broad cyberoperations in the United States, including interfering in elections, but has stopped short of directly accusing of doing so.

China would not be the first country to use trade to achieve political ends in the United States. In the 1980s, the Japanese strategically placed auto plants and their suppliers in critical congressional districts, hoping to head off any action against its auto industry. The United States has used tailored trade actions to affect in Japan and South Korea.

Even allies of the United States have responded to Mr. Trump’s protectionist trade policies with carefully targeted tariffs designed to put political pressure on Washington.

Mexico levied duties on cheese, which was expected to hit hard in Wisconsin, the home state of the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan. The European Union placed tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, also produced in Wisconsin.

Canada and Mexico imposed tariffs on whiskey, a popular export from Kentucky, home of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

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For Mr. Trump, presiding over the Security Council was an unusual exercise because it exposed him to public criticism — something rarely seen in his Cabinet meetings or at his political rallies.

In addition to China’s denial of his accusation of political meddling, Britain, France and Russia faulted him for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Russia took issue with his statements on Syria, and Bolivia’s leftist president, Evo Morales, assailed the United States for just about everything, going back to what he said was its role in ousting Iran’s democratically elected leader in a coup in 1953.

“The United States could not care less about human rights and justice,” Mr. Morales declared.

“Thank you, Mr. President,” Mr. Trump said stonily when he was finished.

Other members were more measured in their remarks.

President Emmanuel Macron of France said the United States and Europe shared the same goals on Iran but differed on the means of achieving them. Mr. Wang of China said that the nuclear deal was a “hard-won victory of multilateralism,” and that while imperfect, had proved itself viable over the past three years.

But Mr. Trump also won praise from most of the members for his diplomatic opening to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as well as for his broader focus on the threat from chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, in New York. Mr. Pompeo said he intended to travel to Pyongyang next month to help prepare for a second summit meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

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In his meeting with Mr. Abe, Mr. Trump pulled out what appeared to be a letter to him from Mr. Kim, which he said was further evidence of their good relationship.

Initially, the president had planned to devote the Security Council session exclusively to the threat posed by Iran. The White House agreed to broaden the theme to proliferation after European officials protested that a focus on Iran would showcase dissent within the West, and that it could offer Iran a platform to respond.

Although he did not mention Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, he did fault the country, along with Iran, for enabling the “butchery” of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

But he also thanked the countries for agreeing to suspend, at least temporarily, their assault on the rebel stronghold of Idlib to avert a humanitarian crisis.


@2018NewYorkTimesService

First Published: Thu, September 27 2018. 07:20 IST
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