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Amidst Ongoing Trade War, China Ignores Trump’s Investigation Request

Ever since President Trump began his controversial trade war with China, Chinese-run state media has been openly critical of the American president, as the economies of both countries are harmed by the ongoing dispute. However, after the president’s recent and highly contentious public request that China open an investigation into the business affairs of his political opponent and his family in that country, their media has been mostly quiet, signalling a lack of willingness to cooperate with the White House in election interference. On Thursday, while standing on the White House’s front lawn before boarding Air Force One, Trump told reporters that China should “start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.” The president’s efforts to solicit foreign aid in discrediting his political opponents in the next presidential election is the subject of an ongoing impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.

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Although China is a country with heavily enforced restrictions on speech, news of the president’s request has seeped onto their version of the internet. However, official media in the country has had nothing to say about the request, and mentions of Trump’s solicitation on Chinese social media are few and far between, suggesting the country’s highly sophisticated censorship apparatus is at work preventing the population from engaging in conversation on the subject. According to several experts interviewed by the New York Times, China’s lack of response is indicative of the country’s struggles in navigating its awkward relationship with the United States. The country is attempting to stand tough in its relationship with the U.S., but also wants to avoid worsening tensions with an unpredictable and chaotic president. Relations are particularly sensitive in advance of the election, where the country is likely to be a primary subject of discussion.

According to Susan Shirk, a deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for China during the Clinton administration, the country’s silence on the subject is itself a political message to the U.S. indicating both a lack of willingness to cooperate with the president and an effort not to provoke the president, whose erratic behavior is feared to worsen the global economy. Additionally, China is still in the midst of its National Day holiday, during which state media are usually slow to respond to international affairs. After Sunday, the country’s top trade negotiator, Liu He, is expected to travel to Washington to discuss trade, and it’s unclear as of yet how the president’s request will shape these talks. 

However, China has already declared a position of being unwilling to meddle in other countries’ internal affairs, and as such, if the country expresses a willingness to work with the administration to discredit Biden, this change in policy position would be difficult to explain. But the United States is a uniquely powerful country on the world stage, and as such the country may find benefit in making an exception to this rule. That being said, Professor Zhang, of Peking University, suggested that even if China opens up an investigation into Hunter Biden, they’d likely keep the findings of that investigation to themselves, as they are a notoriously secretive country.

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On the Chinese internet, Trump has been given the nickname “Te-mei-pu,” a pun which roughly translates to “totally unpredictable.” The president’s trade war, which he started by imposing tariffs on imports of Chinese goods and which China retaliated to by imposing similar tariffs on American imports, has been unpopular in both countries, as it’s widely viewed as unnecessary and has led to an increase in prices paid for by consumers. The country has widely reported on Trump’s request of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens just a few days prior, making their silence on this issue all the more jarring. The closest the country has come to commenting on the matter is a statement from China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who said “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the US, and we trust that the American people will be able to sort out their own problems.” China is widely unpopular in the US, and Democratic presidential candidates, including frontrunners Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, have criticized both Trump’s trade war and the country’s policies.