China emerges as new flashpoint in 2020 campaign

China emerges as new flashpoint in 2020 campaign
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China is emerging as a new campaign issue in the race for the White House as President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump campaign emails supporters encouraging mask-wearing: 'We have nothing to lose' Cuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks MORE clash over who is tougher on Beijing.

Ads released last week by a pro-Trump super PAC and the Biden campaign each cast the opponent as deferential to China, a fight that’s escalating amid the backdrop of a rising death toll from the coronavirus.

The war of words is likely to get louder as November draws closer and as the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths increase.

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“This might be one of the most front-and-center issues of the 2020 elections,” said Jason Miller, who served as a Trump campaign spokesman in 2016. “In many ways, Joe Biden will have the same issue that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump vows challenge to Nevada bill expanding mail-in voting Biden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman Juan Williams: The Trump Show grows tired MORE had, which is that President Trump excels when he’s running against the foreign policy failures of the professionals in both parties.”

Both Trump and Biden are seen as vulnerable on China.

Trump has pivoted from early praise of China’s response to the coronavirus to blaming it for the spread, suggesting Beijing ought to pay a price if it concealed the extent of the threat early on.

But the president’s supporters are hitting Biden for his positive remarks about China over the years as well as his criticism of Trump’s Chinese travel ban announced on Jan. 31.

America First Action, a pro-Trump group, released its attack ad last week as part of a $10 million “Beijing Biden” campaign focused on the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — three states Trump won in 2016.

One clip includes footage from a Biden speech in 2011, when he was vice president: “I believed in 1979 and I believe now that a rising China is a positive development.”

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Trump has also painted Biden as Beijing’s candidate of choice, calling him “their DREAM CANDIDATE” in a tweet last week.

The Biden campaign has responded by launching its own attack ads, blaming Trump for the tens of thousands of deaths in the country, for unprecedented levels of unemployment, and for not pushing back on China earlier and more forcefully, saying the president “failed to act.”

The ominous video says Trump “rolled over for the Chinese” and that his early praise for Beijing hampered the U.S. response to the virus.

Biden is also being supported by American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal super PAC that has invested $15 million in a campaign countering the “Beijing Biden” ads in those battleground states.

“We’re making sure that voters across Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin know full well not only how badly Trump botched this crisis, but also how badly he bent the knee to China in the midst of it as well,” American Bridge President Bradley Beychok said in a statement following the release of the campaign.

Tough talk on China tends to resonate well with voters.

Unfavorable views of China cut across party lines, with more than 90 percent of Americans viewing China’s “power and influence” as a threat to the U.S., according to a recent Pew survey. Yet fewer Democrats than Republicans hold a negative view of China — 62 percent to 72 percent, respectively.

That means Biden may find himself having to walk a fine line when talking about China, with many in the Democratic base worried about increasing discrimination against minority groups, such as Asian Americans, who have seen a rise in hate crimes against them since the coronavirus.

“My alarm always goes off when we use — as a punching bag — other countries in a way that enhances nativism and racism,” said Jonathan Tasini, a Democratic strategist who was a surrogate for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersCuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Trump Spanish-language ad equates progressives, socialists Biden's tax plan may not add up MORE’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign in 2016.

For Republicans, their focus will be on Biden as much as it will be on China.

GOP strategist Michael Steel said Republicans can highlight Biden’s past engagement with Beijing and questions about his family’s business ties in China.

“The president's team has a popular, resonant argument to make tying together Biden's long support for greater engagement with China, his son's business dealings there and his criticism of the China travel ban,” he said.

But those arguments are likely to fade into the background if Trump fails to lead the country out of the pandemic.

The U.S. passed a grim marker on Friday with more than 50,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Steel acknowledged that attacks on Biden “will fall on deaf ears if the American people are still suffering from staggering unemployment and a lingering public health crisis.”