President Donald Trump claimed on Wednesday that China is working to interfere in November’s midterm elections with the aim of damaging him politically.
“Regrettably, we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election coming up in November against my administration,” Trump said during remarks at the UN Security Council.
The President offered scant details or evidence, which came during a session meant to focus on issues of nonproliferation. He suggested the meddling attempts came as retribution for the budding trade war he has waged with Beijing.
“They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade,” Trump said. “We are winning on trade. We are winning at every level. We don’t want them to meddle or interfere in our upcoming election.”
Speaking after Trump, China’s representative on the Security Council denied attempts to interfere in US elections.
“China has all along followed the principle of non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs. This is a tradition of Chinese foreign policy,” said Wang Yi, China’s State Councilor and Minister for Foreign Affairs. “We do not and will not interfere in any countries’ domestic affairs. We refuse to accept any unwarranted accusations against China, and we call upon other countries to also observe the purposes of the UN charter and not to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.”
Later Wednesday, Trump tweeted an image of a recent China Daily sponsored insert in the Iowa-based Des Moines Register newspaper, containing articles supporting Beijing’s stance on the trade war.
“China is actually placing propaganda ads in the Des Moines Register and other papers, made to look like news. That’s because we are beating them on Trade, opening markets, and the farmers will make a fortune when this is over!” the US President said on his official Twitter.
China Daily is a state-media publication which has regularly paid Western news organizations to publish pro-China supplements and advertisements. The US distributor of China Daily is registered as a foreign agent in the United States under the US Foreign Registration Act.
A senior administration official on Wednesday sought to further flesh out Trump’s allegation that China “has been attempting to interfere” in the 2018 midterm elections, but offered no concrete evidence to back up the President’s claim. None of the activities the official described rose to the level of Russia’s coordinated campaign to influence voters in 2016 in support of Trump’s candidacy.
Instead, the official lumped in longstanding practices of the Chinese government and reiterated the administration’s belief that Chinese tariffs targeting regions in the US that supported the President in 2016 amount to election interference
The official described a “whole of government approach using political, economic, commercial and informational tools to benefit the interests of the Chinese Communist Party” and insisted that these activities “go way beyond how normal countries interact with one another.”
“The activities have reached an unacceptable level,” the official said on an official White House briefing call set up on condition of anonymity.
A new round of tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods went into effect this week at Trump’s order. The move escalated a standoff between the US and China, and Trump has held out the possibility of slapping additional tariffs should Beijing retaliate.
US intelligence officials have stated previously that nations like China or Iran may work to interfere in the midterm elections using a playbook established by Russia during the 2016 presidential contest.
Throughout his time in office, Trump has repeatedly downplayed Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election, which US intelligence assessments say was meant to benefit him.
He did not mention Russian interference attempts during his remarks on Wednesday and the activities described by the senior administration official several hours later did not rise to the level of Russia’s actions in 2016.
The official listed other longstanding Chinese government activities without making specific connections to the midterm elections or explaining how such actions amount to election interference: “China punishes or rewards businessmen, think tanks, movie studios, journalists, religious leaders and even political candidates depending on whether they criticize or support china’s policies.”
The official said the administration is “in the process of declassifying more information” and said Vice President Mike Pence will outline the Chinese effort in a speech next week at the Hudson Institute.
The official insisted that the actions amount to election interference because “some of these activities are actually covert.”
Later, departing UN headquarters, Trump insisted there is ample evidence of China’s enmity toward him.
“Plenty of evidence they would like to see me not win,” Trump said when questioned about his earlier claim Beijing is working to interfere in November midterm contests.
“First time ever they’ve been confronted on trade,” Trump said. “They can’t get involved.”
Earlier this month, US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that election meddling attempts haven’t yet reached the scale of the 2016 interference efforts. But he said US agencies were actively monitoring the situation ahead of the vote.
Republicans are working to retain control of the House and Senate, through face daunting prospects with an unpopular president.
Trump has suggested previously that China would work to damage Republicans in November.
“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,” he tweeted last week. 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.”
Trump has vowed to add tariffs on an additional $267 billion in Chinese goods if Beijing takes steps that negatively impact agricultural or industrial workers.
This story has been updated.
CNN’s Kwegyirba Croffie contributed reporting.