Washington: US President Donald Trump and his presumptive Democratic opponent Joe Biden are both ramping up accusations that their rival is soft on Beijing, signalling that the tense US-China relationship will be central to the November election battle.
Both campaigns are trying to tap into the increasingly negative views Americans hold of China, a sentiment that has intensified during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump’s re-election campaign is referring to the former vice president as “Beijing Biden” in emails to supporters and has painted him as “China’s puppet” in a series of three advertisements released this week.
The Trump campaign’s negative ads have aired in battleground states such as Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as well as running online.
In one advertisement, the Trump campaign attacks Biden for favouring the normalisation of trade relations with China and questioning Trump’s restrictions on Chinese arrivals during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.
It also also accuses Biden’s son Hunter of receiving over US$1 billion for working for a Chinese state-owned bank.
The second advertisement ties together what Republicans see as Biden’s two major weaknesses: his track record on China and the perception that, at age 77, he lacks the mental acuity to be president.
The ad included footage of Biden standing next to Chinese President Xi Jinping saying: “The growth of China is overwhelmingly in our interest”.
The third advertisement attacks Biden while seeking to deflect criticism of Trump’s handling of the virus by blaming China.
“Joe Biden won’t stand up to China,” the advertisement says. “He never has. He never will.”
Meanwhile, the Biden camp has attacked Trump for his remarks praising China’s handling of the virus in the early days of the pandemic.
“Trump rolled over for the Chinese,” a Biden campaign advertisement says. “He took their word for it.”
It highlights a January 24 tweet from the President saying: “China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
A separate ad by the Bulwark, a group of anti-Trump Republicans campaigning for Biden, accuses the President of quoting “straight out of China’s propaganda playbook”.
In an interview with Reuters this week, Biden’s foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan said: “The vice president intends to do two things: hold Trump accountable for a catastrophic set of failures in his approach to China, and a colossal gap between tough talk and weak action.”
Most major polls show Biden leading Trump nationally and ahead in the battleground states that will decide the election, but both parties expect a close contest in November.
Attacking China is seen as a particularly effective message for independent swing voters who do not have a strong attachment to either the Republican or Democratic parties.
A Pew Research poll released in April found that 66 per cent of Americans have an unfavourable view of China – the highest on record. That figure is up 19 percentage points from just three years ago, when Americans were evenly split on whether they felt positively or negatively about China.
Just 22 per cent of Americans said they had faith in President Xi to do the right thing regarding world affairs, down 15 percentage points from last year.