In the four years since the last election, China has shown a new-found willingness to mix it up in the forum of public opinion. State media bought four-pages in the Des Moines Register in 2018 to argue that the trade war was hurting Iowa’s farmers. Last year, a Chinese diplomat spared on Twitter with former U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The risk of course is that a more aggressive Beijing begets a cycle of escalating rhetoric that unhinges the relationship with Washington. There have been hints of it before.
The advertorial in the Des Moines Register, for example, prompted President Donald Trump to accuse China of meddling in U.S. elections. And the Chinese diplomat who feuded with Rice later propagated conspiracy theories linking American soldiers to the virus, which infuriated Trump and became one reason why the President insisted on using the term “Chinese virus.”