BEIJING — China stoutly defended on Thursday its right to publish in an American newspaper a supplement that President Trump attacked as interfering in the United States elections, saying the publication was lawful and commonplace. But some liberal ...
BEIJING — China stoutly defended on Thursday its right to publish in an American newspaper a supplement that President Trump attacked as interfering in the United States elections, saying the publication was lawful and commonplace.
But some liberal Chinese analysts said the four-page supplement, paid for by China Daily, an English language newspaper that adheres closely to the dictates of the Communist Party, showed a lack of judgment, and left China exposed to the president’s criticism.
The supplement, which appeared on Sunday in The Des Moines Register, was designed to resemble news articles looking at the economic costs of Mr. Trump’s trade war with China. Many farmers in Iowa are particularly dependent on global trade.
Speaking at the United Nations Security Council, where China’s foreign minister was also present, Mr. Trump said: “Regrettably, we’ve found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election, coming up in November, against my administration.” He did not offer any evidence of such interference. In a tweet, he later described the supplement as propaganda made to look like news.
Pointing to United States laws that allow foreign outlets to “cooperate” with American media organizations the Chinese Foreign Ministry stressed that many countries paid for supplements that portray a nation in flattering ways. Many of those supplements are designed to look like regular news articles that promote tourism or foreign investment.
The supplement that appeared in the Iowa newspaper on Sunday carried the label ChinaWatch, and said on the front page that it was a “section sponsored by China Daily.” China Daily says on its website that ChinaWatch is a monthly publication distributed to millions of “high end” readers around the world, including through The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
The supplement gave glowing accounts of China’s prowess in building railroads, creating fashionable apparel and developing robots. The account of the trade war focused on Beijing’s standard argument: The Chinese and American economies are now interdependent and should remain so.
One piece read: “Trump has always blamed China for the loss of U.S. jobs, but most economists believe that it is automation, rather than China or Mexico, that are responsible for U.S. job losses.”
This week, the United States began imposing tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, the biggest round of levies to take effect in an escalating trade war that both sides say could last a long time.
Republican Party officials in Iowa have expressed concerns about layoffs and financial losses resulting from the tit-for-tat tariffs. Some Republicans fear the trade war could depress turnout in the November elections, when the party is in danger of losing control of the House and possibly the Senate.
As Chinese officials have tried to figure out a strategy for dealing with the tariffs, some have suggested that China should stay quiet until after the elections, arguing that Mr. Trump would have less support in Congress once the Democrats control the House.
Analysts in China said that Mr. Trump’s troubles in Iowa were not a good enough reason for China Daily to publish the supplement and only left the impression the country is trying to influence the elections.
“Savvy public relations or crude propaganda, it should not be conducted by Chinese official media,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor at Renmin University. “China’s official media has a generally poor reputation among too many Western audiences.”
The supplement reinforced the common perception that state-run outlets were a propaganda arm of the government, he said.
Others said that the supplement’s success in influencing Iowa readers to turn from the Republican Party was debatable, and that the risk of drawing the president’s ire was too high.
“China should not do this — it’s legal but wrong to do it because politically it’s not wise,” said Zheng Yongnian of the National University of Singapore. “The most important thing is to stabilize the relationship. The influence is extremely limited, and Trump uses it as an excuse to emphasize a bad thing.”
The supplement’s appearance in Iowa’s largest newspaper struck a sensitive chord at the United States Embassy in Beijing.
The ambassador, Terry Branstad, served as Iowa’s governor for a total of 22 years, and was an early supporter of Mr. Trump in the state, a crucial presidential battleground.
Mr. Branstad has also spoken proudly of his warm relationship with China’s president, Xi Jinping, a friendship he says developed when Mr. Xi first visited the United States in 1985 and toured Iowa.
The ambassador often refers to Mr. Xi as an “old friend.” When the Chinese leadership was trying to figure out the seriousness of Mr. Trump’s trade threats this spring, Mr. Branstad was granted a private dinner with Mr. Xi, his wife and daughter at a state guesthouse in Beijing.
But on Thursday, after Mr. Trump’s accusations about the China Daily supplement, the usually circumspect embassy released harsh remarks about China’s intentions.
“China is using all kinds of methods to try to get us to turn back our policies,” a United States Embassy official said in written remarks that the embassy said could be used only on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic rules. “They are targeting tariffs and retaliation at farmers and workers in states and districts that voted for President Trump, and they are using other political economic commercial military and media tools to benefit the interests of the Chinese Communist Party.”
On social media, the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, won praise for his dismissive facial expression and the shrug he made at the United Nations as he listened to Mr. Trump on Wednesday.
“Minister Wang is the coolest man in China,” said one person who posted on Weibo, the popular social media platform. “Come and learn ‘gazing revenge,’” said another.
Others took aim at the United States’ record of meddling in foreign elections.
“Do you know in the past 50 years how many countries’ domestic affairs you have intervened in, how many governments you have thrown out, how many foreign leaders and normal citizens were prosecuted unlawfully by you?” one user asked.
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