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Terry Branstad says China ‘bullying’ American farmers with media ‘propaganda’

September 30, 2018

U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad accused the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Sunday of “bullying” American farmers by “disseminating its propaganda” in the U.S. media particularly through a paid advertisement that appeared a week ago in Iowa’s Des Moines Register.

The accusation by Mr. Branstad, a former long-time Republican governor of Iowa, came just days after President Trump made headlines at the United Nations by alleging China is meddling in U.S. politics to try and make Republicans lose the upcoming midterm elections.

Mr. Trump broadly claimed during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday that Chinese officials are trying to subvert the U.S. vote out of frustration over his administration’s bare-knuckle trade posture toward Beijing.

While Mr. Branstad’s op-ed on Sunday made no mention of Mr. Trump’s specific meddling allegation, the former Iowa governor claimed China has long engaged in unfair trade practices and is now spreading propaganda in the U.S. in retaliation to the president’s imposition of tariffs against Beijing.

“The administration implemented tariffs to obtain elimination of China’s unfair policies and begin to level the playing field between American companies and their Chinese competitors,” Mr. Branstad wrote. “Unfortunately, China has responded to such action by taking further steps to harm American workers, farmers and businesses through retaliatory actions and is now doubling down on that bullying by running propaganda ads in our own free press.”

He pointed specifically to a Sept. 23 paid advertisement in the Des Moines Register that criticized U.S. actions on trade, saying it was paid for by “China Daily a newspaper the Chinese Communist Party uses to circulate propaganda to foreign audiences.”

“In disseminating its propaganda, China’s government is availing itself of America’s cherished tradition of free speech and a free press,” Mr. Branstad wrote.

“In contrast, at the newsstand down the street here in Beijing, you will find limited dissenting voices and will not see any true reflection of the disparate opinions that the Chinese people may have on China’s troubling economic trajectory, given that media is under the firm thumb of the Chinese Communist Party,” he added. “Even in the case of this op-ed, one of China’s most prominent newspapers dodged the offer to publish.”

Chinese officials have dismissed the allegation of meddling in U.S. politics and media a charge that coincides heightened tension between Washington and Beijing following a wave of heated trade negotiations that have been a signature of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy.

The administration has leveled hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs against a wide range of Chinese exports, including everything from lobster and soybeans to steel products. Beijing has responded by targeting U.S. goods headed to China with stiff tariffs of its own.

When Mr. Trump made his allegation of Chinese election meddling on Wednesday, he appeared to refer to China’s retaliatory tariffs, as opposed to the type of cyber-hacking that Russia conducted in the 2016 U.S. elections. “You have statements made [by the Chinese] that they were going to hit our farmers. Those are my voters,” the president said. “I love the farmers. I’m taking care of the farmers.”

A senior administration official claimed in a White House conference call with reporters that “China is actively interfering in our political system” by “hurting farmers and workers in states and districts that voted for the president.”

China has responded to Mr. Trump’s tariffs in part by penalizing U.S. farm exports, hitting especially hard at Mr. Trump’s GOP base in midwestern and southern states.

The four-page China Daily ad placed in the Des Moines Register last weekend appeared as frustration over the situation has risen in those states. The ad called the dispute over soybeans “the fruit of a president’s folly.”

Chinese Foreign Minister spokesman Geng Shuang defended the placement of the ad on Thursday.

“According to U.S. laws, foreign media could have various forms of cooperation with U.S. media,” Mr. Geng told reporters in Beijing. “China Daily putting up a paid piece on the Des Moines Register is just one of those forms, as I understand. Many foreign media do that.”

“It is absolutely far-fetched and fictitious to paint such normal cooperation as the Chinese government trying to interfere in the U.S. election,” he said.

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