The GOP has spent this morning pouncing on this clip from last night’s CNN town hall, and well they should. Joe Biden wanted to sound tough on trade last night in Pennsylvania, but began quavering when it came to China — not just the worst abuser on trade, but on a number of other points, including human-rights abuses. Biden had lots to say about Russia, much of it true, but suddenly decided to be more nuanced about the country that hacked US government and military systems at will during the Obama-Biden years:
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) September 18, 2020
COOPER: Let me ask, FBI Director Chris Wray said just today that Russia has been, in his words, very active in its efforts to influence the election and “denigrate” you. You said that that there would be economic price to pay for Russia, if they continue with this. Can you be more specific? What do you – what do you – what is the price to pay?
BIDEN: It wouldn’t be prudent for me to be more specific. But I assure you, they will pay a price.
COOPER: Do you believe Russia is an enemy?
BIDEN: I believe Russia is an opponent. I really do. And, look, Putin’s overwhelming objective is to break up NATO, to fundamentally alter the circumstance in Europe, so he doesn’t have to face an entire NATO contingent, any one country he is stronger than. And he’s – look what’s happening now. Look what’s happening in Belarus. Look what’s happening in his response. Look what’s happening, though, in countries like Romania. Look what’s happening in terms of the authoritarian nature of some of the regimes changing.
COOPER: Do you view China as an opponent? Because the President says you’ve been too cozy with China, too accepting of them in the international community.
BIDEN: I’m not the guy. Look, China, we now have a larger trade deficit with China than we’ve ever had with China. And in our Administration, when the World Trade Organization, he keeps going on about, just ruled that his trade policy violated the World Trade Organization, we sued. We went to the World Trade Organization 16 times, 16 times.
COOPER: Do you view China as an opponent?
BIDEN: I view China as a competitor.
BIDEN: A serious competitor. That’s why, I think, we have to strengthen our relationships and our alliances in Asia. That’s why we have to, in fact, make – I made it clear, as you may recall, that when I was in China, and Xi said to me that they’re setting up an air identification zone, I said – I was with the National Security team, I said we’re not going to pay attention. It’s what he expect me to do, bring it down. I said, “We’re just not going to pay attention. We’re going to fly right through it. We’re going to abide by international norms. That’s what we’re going to do and insist that they do.”
It’s perfectly reasonable to consider Russia an opponent, if not an enemy. However, let’s not forget that this point had to be repeatedly drilled into Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who laughed off the threat from Russia from 2008 all the way to July 2016. Obama’s first Secretary of State Hillary Clinton infamously offered Sergei Lavrov a “reset button” in early 2009, blaming the Bush administration for sour relations just months after Putin ordered the invasion of Georgia. In 2012, when Mitt Romney called Russia the US’ biggest geopolitical foe, Obama scoffed, quipping, “The 80s called and they want their foreign policy back.” The only reason Russia became Biden’s bete noire now is that Democrats have been shrieking hysterically about Russia as an excuse for losing the 2016 election.
But if Russia is an opponent, China’s an even bigger and more dangerous one. Russia may have hacked the DNC and conducted Merry Prankster operations on social media during the election. China’s military has hacked the Pentagon, the Office of Personnel Management, and Equifax, among other targets. They are also conducting industrial espionage on a large scale to acquire western technology for the “competition” Biden cites, undermining the economic strength of the US and its allies. FBI director Christopher Wray testified in July that China is determined to become “the world’s only superpower by any means necessary.” That’s not a competitor — that’s an opponent, and a much more potent one than a gassed-out Russia suffering under the decline of energy prices created in large part by ramped-up US production.
Even on the economic front, China’s clearly more than a mere competitor to the Rust Belt voters Biden wants to reach, too. It’s the “competitor” pose that created the trade agreements that sapped the Rust Belt of its manufacturing base, under policies championed by Biden during his decades in the Senate. Those bipartisan policies didn’t change until Trump took office and decided to fight China’s trade and intellectual-property abuses, and recognized China’s true status as an opponent.
This answer from Biden more than suggests a return to the status quo ante. It suggests a return to the surrender to China on cyberwarfare issues that characterized the Obama-Biden years. Even without the Hunter Biden connection, the China issue is one worth highlighting for the GOP and Trump.