Cybersecurity, terrorism, trade and nuclear threats ... why US presidential debate couldn’t ignore China

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton mention ‘China’ 12 times in face-off on Monday night

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 1:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2016, 9:33am

China featured much more prominently in first US presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton compared with the last two elections.

It wasn’t long after Republican candidate Trump began to talk before he started attacking China for causing the United States’ economic woes.

“You look at what China’s doing to our country in terms of making our product, they’re devaluing their currency and there’s nobody in our government to fight them ... They’re using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China, and many other countries are doing the same thing,” Trump said.

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While usage of the word “China” was mostly restricted to discussions about trade and debt in the US’ previous presidential election debates, this was expanded to areas including cybersecurity, terrorism and nuclear threats during the debate that took place on Monday night, US time.

In Monday’s debate, both Trump and Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton mentioned China 12 times on topics covering trade, the internet, Iran, North Korea as well as US infrastructure.

In 2012 at the first such debate between then candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the word “China” featured just three times as Romney spoke. Obama did not mention China at all.

In 2008 during the debate between Obama and John McCain, China featured five times as the candidates discussed the country as a US debt holder and potential collaborator in imposing sanctions against Iran.

On Monday night, Trump accused China of conducting trade unfairly and taking away jobs from America.

“Our country is in deep trouble, and we don’t know what we’re doing, when it comes to devaluation, all countries all over the world, especially China – they’re the best ever at it. What they are doing to us is a very, very sad thing,” Trump said.

He also said China should solve the North Korea nuclear crisis.

“At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table. Because you look at some of these countries. You look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea. China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea,” he said.

Clinton mentioned China on three occasions.

Pledging to be tough against possible cyberattacks on America, she said: “Whether it’s Russia, China, Iran, or anybody else, the United States has much greater capacity. And we are not going to sit idly by and permit state actors to go after our information, our private sector information or our public sector information.”

In addressing climate change at one point, Clinton said: “Donald Trump thinks climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.”

“I did not, I do not say that,” Trump replied.

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But US media soon found a 2012 tweet from the Trump camp claiming that the concept of global warming had been created by the Chinese in order to hurt the competitiveness of the US manufacturing industry.

Not all mention of China was negative, however.

Trump praised China’s airports to demonstrate the lag in infrastructure in the US.

“You land at Laguardia, Newark, L.A.X., and you come in from Dubai and Qatar, you come in from China, you see these incredible airports, we’ve become a third-world country,” he said.

Analysts say Trump’s heavy criticism of China at the debate may not necessarily turn into policies if he wins the election in November.

“Donald Trump has not yet thought out what his China policy would be to that level of detail. He does not have well thought out ideas on China,” said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre based in Tsinghua University in Beijing.

“He was simply using China as an example to make his broader points about his views that the US has taken on too heavy an international burden and has had a weak international economic and trade policy.”

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Yuan Zheng, an expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Science’s Institute of American Studies, said the China bashing during the US presidential debate was neither new nor unexpected.

Rather, it reflected the close interaction between the two countries over the years, he said. China and the US are each other’s second-biggest trading partner.

Yuan added that although Clinton appeared more reserved in attacking China during the debate, this did not mean she would continue to do so as the campaign progresses.

She would likely give in to public criticism or anti-China sentiments in the US if the public demanded from her a stronger stance towards China, he said.

The fact that China featured much more prominently than before in the US presidential debate showed Beijing would face enormous challenges in dealing with the new US president no matter who won the election, said Zhang Yuquan, an international relations expert from Sun Yat-sun University in Guangzhou.

“A Trump president would bring uncertainty in Sino-US relations, while the China policy from Clinton as president would be more consistent. But no matter who wins at last, China will face huge challenges from the next US president, because Trump will be tough on trade issues with China, and Clinton will further strengthen ties with Asian allies such as Japan and the Philippines to counter China’s geopolitical sway in the region, Zhang said.

The US debate also sparked a buzz among those internet users in China.

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While some Chinese internet users were angered by the candidates’ comments about China, others were glad to see China playing a larger role int he election closely watched around the world.

“Our great China is affecting the US election. I feel kind of proud,” a Weibo user going by the name of Yuhanxuange commented on a Global Times post about Trump’s China bashing.

“It shows the power of China cannot be ignored,” said another user called Huamuxiaoyang.