the national interest

Here’s What U.S. Intelligence Actually Said China Wants in 2020

Photo: Artyom Ivanov/TASS via Getty Images

Amid a spray hose of falsehoods so unrelenting no fact-checker could keep pace, one lie from the Republican convention was particularly audacious. Donald Trump Jr. asserted, “Beijing Biden is so weak on China that the intelligence community recently assessed that the Chinese Communist Party favors Biden.”

U.S. intelligence did say something about China and the election. But it was not that.

Several weeks ago, Robert Draper reported a harrowing account of Trump pressuring intelligence officials to suppress their findings that Russia was taking active measures to promote his reelection. Trying to get ahead of the story, intelligence officials released a statement acknowledging that Russia was indeed working to help Trump, and that this assistance included promoting disinformation that was actively disseminated by Trump and his congressional Republican allies.

But to soften the blow, the statement also threw in mentions of two other countries who are rooting against Trump: Iran and China. Unlike Russia, neither of these countries was assessed to be taking any covert actions to affect the elections. And why is China rooting against Trump? The statement said nothing about Biden being “weak.” In fact it said nothing about Biden at all.

The analysis, in its entirety, stated, “We assess that China prefers that President Trump — whom Beijing sees as unpredictable — does not win reelection.”

“Unpredictable” does not mean Trump is tough on China. Because he isn’t — certainly not with any consistency. Sometimes he’s lavishing China’s president with praise and letting Chinese spies into his resort and refusing to condemn China’s crackdown in Hong Kong. Other times he is levying tariffs on Chinese goods and trying to whip up Sinophobic anger. It’s difficult to handle a foreign counterpart who toggles between sycophancy and rage for no apparent reason.

Meanwhile, Russia actually has developed a clear preference for Trump once again. In 2016, the support operated through back channels, some of which were exposed (like Don Jr. taking a meeting with a Russian agent to pursue its support for his father) and others of which were obscured (Paul Manafort refused to clarify just what cooperation he gave to his Russian intelligence-agent partner). This year, Trump just gets to hold private phone calls with Vladimir Putin.

As in 2016, Russia isn’t bothering to conceal its preference. Russian propaganda credited Donald Jr.’s girlfriend for “stealing the show” with her, uh, energetic speech:

Almost every country other than Russia — along with a handful of fellow right-wing authoritarian states like Poland, Hungary, and Brazil that have joined a global movement against liberal democracy — would prefer to deal with Biden over Trump. It’s not because Biden is “weak” on those countries. They want the most powerful country in the world to be led by a president who isn’t nuts.

Here’s What U.S. Intel Actually Said China Wants in 2020