Taking center stage at the United Nations, President Donald Trump accused China of trying to interfere in the upcoming U.S. congressional elections because it opposes his tough trade policies.
“They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade,” Trump said as he chaired the U.N. Security Council for the first time.
He made his accusation against the backdrop of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the last election to help him and amid concerns that this November’s elections also could be vulnerable.
Asked later what evidence he had, Trump said there was “plenty” but didn’t provide details. Instead, he zeroed in on China’s propaganda efforts to flood the heartland with ads and statements against Trump’s hundreds of billions of dollars in punishing tariffs
Trump added: “I don’t like it when they attack our farmers and I don’t like it when they put out false messages. But beside that, we learned that 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.”
China’s foreign minister shrugged when he heard Trump’s statement via translation at the Security Council.
“We do not and will not interfere in any countries’ domestic affairs,” said Foreign Minister Wang Yi. “We refuse to accept any unwarranted accusations against China, and we call on other countries to also observe the purposes of the U.N. charter and not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.”
A senior Trump administration official who briefed reporters about Trump’s comments said China was stepping up covert and overt activities to punish those who support Trump’s tough trade stance and interfere in the political system. The only specifics given by the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, were that China is hurting farmers and workers in states and districts that voted for Trump.
The official said China stifles free speech on U.S. campuses and punishes or rewards businesses, think tanks, movie studios and political candidates for criticizing or supporting Chinese politics. The official added that more information would be declassified in coming days and that Vice President Mike Pence was expected to speak on the issue next week.
Trump’s full speech to the UN general assembly can be watched below.
Trump leveled his charge against China amid a whirlwind day of diplomacy at the United Nations, where he had meetings with Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Britain’s Theresa May. Alongside Netanyahu, Trump offered his most explicit endorsement yet of the two-state solution to bring an end to the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
The president also used his moment chairing the Security Council meeting on nuclear proliferation to issue a strong warning to nuclear-aspirant Iran, which he deemed the “world’s leading sponsor of terror” fueling “conflict around the region and far beyond.”
“I ask all members of the Security Council to work with the United States to ensure the Iranian regime changes its behaviour and never acquires a nuclear bomb,” he said.
He also accused Iran and Russia of “enabling” “butchery” by the Syrian government although he thanked all three countries for pulling back from an offensive against rebels in Idlib province.
The remaining signatories in the nuclear deal – the UK, China, France, Germany and Russia – say they will set up a new payment system to maintain business with Iran and bypass US sanctions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the idea as “one of the most counterproductive measures imaginable”.
Iran hit back by accusing Mr Trump of “abusing” the Security Council.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, President Hassan Rouhani predicted that America would eventually rejoin the nuclear deal.
“The United States of America one day, sooner or later, will come back,” he said. “This cannot be continued.”
In a speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Mr Rouhani said no nation could be brought to the negotiating table by force.
“What Iran says is clear,” he added. “No war, no sanctions, no threats, no bullying. Just acting according to the law and the fulfilment of obligations.”
French President Emanuel Macron, who still backs the 2015 deal, called for a “long-term strategy”.
Trump, in his meeting with Abe, warned China again that “they can’t get involved with our elections,” strong rhetoric that stood in stark contrast to his reluctance to acknowledge or condemn Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies and refused to chastise Russia’s Vladimir Putin during their summer summit in Helsinki.
There is extensive evidence linking Russia to attempts to penetrate U.S. elections systems and to influence U.S. voters. Facebook announced in July that it had uncovered “sophisticated” efforts, possibly linked to Russia, to influence U.S. politics on its platforms. Thirty-two accounts were removed from Facebook and Instagram because they were involved in “coordinated” political behavior and appeared to be fake. Nearly 300,000 people followed at least one of the accounts.
Microsoft also said it had discovered that a fake domain had been set up as the landing page for phishing attacks by a hacking group believed to have links to Russian intelligence. A Microsoft spokesman said Monday that additional analysis had confirmed that the attempted attacks occurred in late 2017 and targeted multiple accounts associated with the offices of two legislators running for re-election.
Officials say China’s cyber-espionage operations targeting U.S. defense and commerce have been formidable, however. And Trump’s claim comes amid an escalation of tensions between Washington and Beijing, spurred by their growing trade dispute.
Each imposed tariff increases on the other’s goods Monday, and Beijing accused the Trump administration of bullying. A Chinese official said China cannot hold talks on ending the trade dispute while the U.S. “holds a knife” to Beijing’s neck by hiking tariffs. Trump later tweeted out a photo of an advertising insert called “China Watch,” saying China was placing propaganda ads in the Des Moines Register and other papers to make it look like news.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
September 26th, 2018