Trade war, day 90: ‘This is political interference, not election interference’


The escalating tensions between the U.S. and China amid the trade war took an unexpected turn last week when Donald Trump accused China of election interference, citing only an ad the China Daily had placed in Iowa’s Des Moines Register that criticized the trade war and its impacts of American farmers.

  • Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has contradicted Trump, and said that there is “currently no indication that a foreign adversary intends to disrupt our election infrastructure,” Nextgov reports.
  • But “American intelligence agencies are carrying out an assessment of whether Chinese operatives are targeting the U.S. election,” a “U.S. intelligence official familiar with the matter” informed Foreign Policy (porous paywall).
  • Vice President Mike Pence is expected to make an address tomorrow, October 4, in which he will talk about Chinese influence in the U.S.

That same Foreign Policy article provides a good overview (porous paywall) of what exactly constitutes “election interference,” and the ways in which China has reportedly tried to interfere in a few elections around the world — including possibly the 1996 American election, but not the 2018 U.S. midterm, by all accounts other than Trump. A key quote from Abigail Grace, a former senior official who dealt with China policy on the National Security Council earlier this year:

This is political interference, not election interference…[that distinction] may seem semantic but in today’s hyper-partisan environment…precision is something that we should demand.

Earlier, BuzzFeed cybersecurity correspondent Kevin Collier — interviewed this summer on Sinica about China’s growing hacking powerreported, “Several threat intelligence companies told BuzzFeed News they hadn’t seen significant Chinese hacking campaigns aimed at US election services.” Rush Doshi and Robert Williams write on Lawfare that “China is indeed pursuing influence efforts in the United States and elsewhere, but these differ from Russia’s in important respects.”

Meanwhile, the mechanics of the trade war have not changed in a few weeks, since prospective last-minute negotiations to avert further tariffs were thrown into doubt and then canceled. The Wall Street Journal reports (paywall): “US, China may resume trade talks in December, White House says.” Those talks would happen on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In addition, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Beijing on October 8, Reuters reports.

More trade war and U.S.-China articles:

Previously in SupChina’s trade war coverage:

At least Trump didn’t ban all Chinese students — trade war, day 89