The Hypocrisy of Trump Accusing China of Election Meddling
While much has been made of recent foreign interference in U.S. elections, election meddling is a long-established political tactic especially favored by the U.S.
In last week’s United Nations (U.N) General Assembly session, U.S. President Donald Trump accused China of meddling in the upcoming midterm election in November and aiding his opponents. But election meddling by foreign governments has a long history as a tactic employed by both the U.S. and foreign governments.
“Regrettably, we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election, coming up in November, against my administration,” the real estate mogul said on Wednesday.
“They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade. And we are winning on trade, we are winning at every level,” he added.
However, Trump did not provide any evidence to support his claim. Previously, several high-ranked officials in the Trump administration also made accusations against China related to election meddling.
Last August, National Security Adviser John Bolton said that China is one of the countries that has a potential to meddle in the U.S election, besides Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
“Well, I can say definitively that it’s a sufficient national security concern about Chinese meddling, Iranian meddling, and North Korean meddling that we’re taking steps to try and prevent it,” Bolton said to ABCNews.
U.S. and China relations have soured following Trump’s decision to slap an import tariff on Chinese goods worth $200 billion in early September – the latest tariff to fight against what the U.S. calls unfair business practices carried out by China.
Russia and China React to Accusations of Election Meddling
China’s Foreign Ministry strongly denied the U.S. accusation made at the U.N General session, saying that Beijing always follows a non-interference foreign policy.
“China has all along followed the principle of non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in response to Trump’s accusation.
Russia has been accused of meddling in the U.S. presidential election that helped Trump to take office in 2016. In response to Trump’s accusation of China, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was delighted that the U.S. leader no longer blamed the Kremlin for interfering in the ballot.
“This time he blamed China only for interference, he did not mention Russia – well he didn’t mention us before,” the minister said while speaking to press at the United Nations.
He smiled and added, “We are the last people interested in interfering in interior affairs.”
When asked later about any Russian interference in South Africa, Lavrov responded, “No, this time we are busy with meddling with Catalonia elections,” prompting laughter. “No time for this, you know, it’s too far.”
A report from U.S. intelligence in January 2017 declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 U.S. election with a goal of ruining trust in the American democratic process and hurting the image of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The report also stated that Russia tried to help pave the way for Trump’s candidacy.
Foreign Meddling in US Elections is Nothing New
The reputed American academic Noam Chomsky said that Israel’s intervention in U.S. elections is far greater than that of Russia. He referred to Netanyahu’s speech before the U.S. Congress in 2015 on the unsigned nuclear deal. The Israeli Prime Minister arrived without informing the then president, delivered a speech in Congress and was widely applauded.
“Israeli intervention in U.S. elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done. I mean, even to the point where the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies—what happened with Obama and Netanyahu in 2015. Did Putin come to give an address to the joint sessions of Congress trying to—calling on them to reverse U.S. policy, without even informing the president?” the prominent activist said in an interview with DemocracyNow.
Implications of China and Russia involvement in U.S. elections are nothing new. The re-election of Bill Clinton in 1996 was alleged to have been supported by donations from several prominent Chinese with ties to the Chinese government. Media exposure at the time was minor in comparison to Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 election.
While Vladimir Putin has denied any election meddling in the 2016 poll, in the 1960’s the then-president of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, boasted frankly about his support for John F.Kennedy.
“You know, Mr. Kennedy, we voted for you,” Khruschev told Kennedy as Kruschev alleged in his 1961 memoir.
Kruschev claimed Kennedy responded, “You’re right. I admit you played a role in the election and cast your vote for me.”
The U.S. is Not So Innocent of Election Meddling
During the Cold War, U.S. interference in other countries’ elections was so common it was accepted as normal. According to Don H.Levin, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, there were 68 American interventions in worldwide elections from 1946 to 1989.
Presidential candidates that were backed by Washington in that era were no more democratic than their opponents. Instead, the U.S. focused on helping any candidate that was willing to serve its interests.
However, in recent years, U.S. interference in elections has claimed a purpose of strengthening democratic processes and civil rights in foreign countries. Intervention is often also carried out openly by providing grants to civic and business organizations in addition to political parties.
Many dispute the U.S.’ true motive behind foreign interference. As an example, the U.S. claims their involvement in Syria is based on anti-terrorism initiatives and humanitarian concerns. However, others argue the U.S. is trying to institute a coup and remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from office.
While meddling in foreign elections is arguably a long-established political tactic, it is the nature of meddling that has changed. The back alley deals, shady financial transactions and even attempted assassinations of the old days are being replaced by big data and the psychological manipulation of voters that is made possible via the internet.
Election meddling itself, however, is likely here to stay.