White House Begins the China Counter-Narrative

Andy Wong/AP

Vice President Pence is giving a speech today at the Hudson Institute. Normally that wouldn’t get a lot of attention, especially with so much else going on. But this is a bigger deal than it might appear. Seeing portions of the speech now on Twitter, it is crystal clear that the White House is trying to delegitimize the on-going Mueller probe by setting up China is the real meddler in US internal affairs and democratic practice.

Most importantly, they are claiming that China is working against Donald Trump in 2018 and 2020. This is a big, big deal and I expect they will be expanding on it in the coming weeks and likely going into 2020.

Look at these tweets. Seldin is a reporter with Voice of America.

Here are fuller quotes released in advance of the speech (emphasis added)…

Today, the Chinese Communist Party is rewarding or coercing American businesses, movie studios, universities, think tanks, scholars, journalists, and local, state, and federal officials. Worst of all, China has initiated an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections

To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working; China wants a different American President.

China is meddling in America’s democracy. As President Trump said just last week, we have “found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 [midterm] election[s].”

Our intelligence community says that “China is targeting U.S. state and local governments and officials to exploit any divisions between federal and local levels on policy. It’s using wedge issues, like trade tariffs, to advance Beijing’s political influence.”

In June, Beijing circulated a sensitive document, entitled “Propaganda and Censorship Notice,” that laid out its strategy. It states that China must “strike accurately and carefully, splitting apart different domestic groups” in the United States.

To that end, Beijing has mobilized covert actors, front groups, and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policies. As a senior career member of our intelligence community recently told me, what the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what the China is doing across this country.

Senior Chinese officials have also tried to influence business leaders to condemn our trade actions, leveraging their desire to maintain their operations in China. In one recent example, they threatened to deny a business license for a major U.S. corporation if it refused to speak out against our administration’s policies.

And when it comes to influencing the midterms, you need only look at Beijing’s tariffs in response to ours. They specifically targeted industries and states that would play an important role in the 2018 election.By one estimate, more than 80% of U.S. counties targeted by China voted for President Trump in 2016; now China wants to turn these voters against our administration.

Fortunately, Americans aren’t buying it. For example: American farmers are standing with this President and are seeing real results from the strong stands that he’s taken, including this week’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, where we’ve substantially opened North American markets to U.S. products – a great win for American farmers and manufacturers.

And China is also directly appealing to the American voter. Last week, the Chinese government paid to have a multipage supplement inserted into the Des Moines Register – the paper of record in the home state of our Ambassador to China, and a pivotal state in 2018. The supplement, designed to look like news articles, cast our trade policies as reckless and harmful to Iowans. But when our Ambassador tried to place his own op-ed in Chinese newspapers, describing the truth about our policies, no Chinese outlet would publish it.

To be clear, China is a major player in international espionage aimed at the United States. And much of the back and forth trade hard ball is happening. American businesses are deeply embedded in China, both literally and figuratively. The Chinese are thus able to exert a deep and profound influence in the US private economy and in politics. Just recently China has been successfully pressuring airlines to stop referring to Taiwan as a separate country, as opposed to part of China, using the threat of pulling licenses to run commercial flights in and out of the country. That’s not really relevant to the issues here. But it’s a good example of the pull.

So the point here isn’t that China is getting a bad rap. But what is being discussed here is different in kind from what Russia was involved with in 2016 – not least because Russia appears to have been conspiring with now-President Trump’s entourage to get the help. But the bigger point is that this real issue is now clearly being used to diminish the Russia issue and specifically to delegitimize the Russia investigation.

Note also the personalization around President Trump, as opposed to the country in general. Clearly in this view, President Trump and the country are all but indistinguishable.

We’ll have more on this. But pay close attention to this.

 

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