US President Donald Trump used his nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night to launch a blistering and, at times, factually errant critique of Joe Biden’s position on China, capping off a week of attempts by Republicans to portray the Democratic challenger as too friendly with Beijing.
“Joe Biden’s agenda is ‘Made in China’,” Trump said, addressing a tightly packed, mostly maskless audience on the White House’s South Lawn on the final night of the Republican National Convention. “My agenda is ‘Made in the USA’.”
Biden has pledged to protect American workers from China’s “unfair trade practices” and rally international allies to push back against attempts by the country to “undermine international norms”. During his nomination acceptance speech last week, the former vice-president vowed to move manufacturing of medical equipment from China and other countries back to the US.
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In a speech that drew heavily on his “America First” mantra, Trump heaped blame on China for the coronavirus, bemoaned its entry into the World Trade Organisation, and trumpeted the phase one trade deal signed with Beijing earlier this year, calling it “the toughest, boldest, strongest and hardest hitting action against China in American history by far”.
Biden has slammed the trade agreement as “weak” and “full of vague, weak, and recycled commitments from Beijing”, while recent analysis by the Peterson Institute for International Economics indicates China is far behind on agricultural purchases needed to fulfil the deal.
Trump, who is trailing in major national polls, repeated rhetoric that Biden would be beholden to Beijing if he were elected, claims he and his allies have based on an unfounded theory that the former vice-president curried favour with officials in China to benefit his son’s business dealings there.
“China would own our country, if Joe Biden got elected,” Trump said. “China supports Joe Biden and desperately wants him to win, I can tell you that upon very good information,” he said, apparently referencing a recent assessment by the US intelligence community that Beijing did not favour a second Trump term because the former reality TV star was “unpredictable”.
Trump’s attacks on Biden’s Beijing stance rounded off four days of similar rhetoric from a host of convention speakers, including lawmakers, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose appearance prompted House Democrats to launch an investigation into a potential violation of laws prohibiting federal employees from political campaigning.
Addressing the convention earlier on Thursday, Senator Tom Cotton sought to effectively pin the entirety of US grievances against China on Biden, accusing him of having “aided and abetted China’s rise for 50 years”.
“President Trump is clear-eyed about the Chinese threat and he is making China pay,” said the Arkansas Republican, one of Capitol Hill’s most strident China hawks. “But China’s not giving up, in fact they’re rooting for Joe Biden.”
White House aides criticised last week’s Democratic convention for not giving enough airtime to issues related to China, while Trump’s son Eric accused Democrats of being too focused on the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Thursday, there have been more than 180,000 Covid-19 related deaths in the US and some 5.8 million confirmed infections.
“All they can talk about … is Covid,” the younger Trump told Fox News on Thursday ahead of his father’s address. “Covid, Covid, Covid, and how Trump’s a bad man.”
Yet it was not only Democrats who had critical words for the president over his Thursday speech, with members of both parties accusing him of blurring the line between official and campaign business by choosing to accept his nomination at the White House. No other sitting president in modern history has used the official residence for such an occasion.
“[Trump is] incapable of separating campaign from official business,” Charlie Dent, a former Republican lawmaker and House ethics committee chair, tweeted. “Another norm shattered.”
Earlier in August, when Trump first floated the idea of delivering his speech at the White House, Republican Senator John Thune questioned the legality of the move, telling reporters: “Anything to do with federal property would seem to me to be problematic.”
The president and vice-president are exempt from the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan politics while on official duty, but any government employees assisting with the event could potentially be in violation of the law. Trump was introduced on Thursday night by his daughter Ivanka who serves in his administration as a presidential adviser.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng addresses Republican National Convention urging votes for Trump’s re-election
- Melania Trump wants four more years in the White House
- ‘No God’: with apocalyptic rhetoric, Republicans stoke fear if Trump loses
- Donald Trump says China will ‘own’ US if Joe Biden wins presidential election in November
This article Trump attacks opponent Biden’s China stance in acceptance speech first appeared on South China Morning Post