Trump Accuses Beijing of Election Meddling in Trade War, Warns of Further Tariffs

September 18, 2018 Updated: September 19, 2018

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump warned of further retaliation against China and accused Beijing of seeking to influence November midterms by targeting U.S. farmers and industrial workers in the escalating trade war.

Trump sent two tweets on Sept. 18 blaming China as both parties announced they would slap new tariffs on each other.

“China has openly stated that they are actively trying to impact and change our election by attacking our farmers, ranchers, and industrial workers because of their loyalty to me,” Trump wrote.

“What China does not understand is that these people are great patriots and fully understand that China has been taking advantage of the United States on trade for many years. They also know that I am the one that knows how to stop it,” he continued.

“There will be great and fast economic retaliation against China if our farmers, ranchers and/or industrial workers are targeted!”

The trade tension between the United States and China escalated as Trump announced on Sept. 17 that his administration would proceed with imposing tariffs on an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods. The tariffs are set to begin on Sept. 24 with a levy of 10 percent, before rising to 25 percent on Jan. 1 next year.

The second round of tariffs follows on tariffs of 25 percent on $50 billion in Chinese goods that Washington announced in June.

Trump also warned that if China retaliates against the U.S. farmers and other industries, he will impose tariffs on another $267 billion in Chinese imports.

In response, Beijing said on Sept. 18 it plans to retaliate with tariffs against $60 billion worth of American products.

Trump’s new tariffs came as a surprise to Chinese leaders, who were planning to send a delegation headed by Vice Premier Liu He to Washington next week for a fresh round of talks. As a result, China may decline Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s invitation and not send a delegation, the South China Morning Post reported on Sept. 18.

According to Xia Yeliang, a libertarian scholar and former professor of economics at Peking University, Chinese leaders will be looking to save face as they were caught off-guard by Trump’s announcement. Trump’s comments about election interference were correct, Xia said, as “the Chinese regime tries to give Donald Trump a hard time with some retaliation on the U.S. farmers.”

China doesn’t have a B plan apart from prolonging the negotiations, according to Xia.

“They don’t have much choice. They have high expectations that Trump will fail in the elections. They hope to change the U.S. president,” Xia argued.

However, he believes China’s strategy won’t prove effective.

The U.S. tariffs come at a difficult time for the Chinese economy. Domestic economic growth is slowing and the ongoing trade war is expected to exert more pressure on growth. In addition, the jobless rate in China is surging, which may soon lead to labor and veterans demonstrations across the country, Xia said.

The United States may make a deal at some point, Trump said during a joint press meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda in the Oval Office on Sept 18.

“We’re making a lot of headway with China. China wants to come over and talk, and we are always open to talking. But we have to do something. We have a tremendous trade imbalance with China,” he said.

‘Not Just a Trump Matter’

China, for months, has refused U.S. demands that it change its unfair trade practices.

The Trump administration accuses China of stealing key technologies and intellectual property (IP) from American companies using tactics that include physical and cyber theft, forced technology transfers, evasion of U.S. export controls, export restraints on raw materials, and investments in high-technology companies.

“United States has run $10 trillion worth of trade deficits in the last 20 years. That has an enormous deleterious impact on job creation in this country,” Patrick Mulloy, a former assistant secretary in the International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce told NTD, part of the Epoch Media Group.

According to Mulloy, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer should be in charge of these negotiations rather than Secretary Mnuchin. And he thinks Chinese also have started to realize that.

“You need a multilateral effort to talk with the Chinese on some of the things that they’re doing. And I think that’s what Lighthizer has in mind. But he’s got to get this NAFTA agreement done before he can turn his attention full-time to that issue,” he said.

Mulloy believes that there is a strong bipartisan support for Trump’s China tariffs.

“This is not just a Trump matter,” he said, adding that key Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are “very supportive of a stronger view on China.”

Even if the Democrats gain control of the Congress in November, Mullay said, lawmakers won’t back off from the need to address the trade conflict with China.

“I think both parties are now deeply embedded in this issue.”

Follow Emel on Twitter: @mlakan