Candidates Use Platforms, Conventions to Attack Each Other on China

(Left) President Trump, President Xi, then-Vietnamese President Trần Đại Quang, and then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull take a selfie on November 16, 2017. (Right) Vice President Biden raises a toast in honor of Chinese President Xi at a State Luncheon at the State Department on September 25, 2015. Image credits: (Left) US Embassy Canberra / Public domain(Right) US Department of State / Public domain 

Both dominant US political parties held their national conventions in August. Dui Hua previously suggested that engagement with China would be an issue in the 2020 elections “to an extent that it has not been in the past.” Both parties used their conventions and accompanying publicity to frame the other as ineffective on China, but Republican narratives have focused on China with more frequency and intensity.  

The Democratic National Convention (DNC) was held from August 17-20, with the Republican National Convention (RNC) taking place from August 24-27. The DNC official approved its party platform on August 18. The RNC ultimately decided not to release an updated platform, instead offering a bulleted list of second-term agenda goals. 

The DNC platform explicitly references China 27 times, a substantial increase from its 2016 platform’s eight mentions. On its foreign policy for the Asia-Pacific region, the platform affirms support for the Taiwan Relations Act, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, and the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act while also opposing China’s claims in the South China Sea and likening the mass internment of Uyghurs to the religion-based genocidal attacks in the Middle East and Myanmar. 

On trade reform, the platform says that it will “protect the American worker from unfair trade practices by the Chinese government…” and “push back against China or any other country’s attempts to undermine international norms.” It stresses multilateral cooperation, citing Europe as the United States’ “natural partner in managing areas of competition with China” and promising to “mobilize more than half the world’s economy to stand up to China.” The platform heavily criticizes the so-called trade war, describing it as “reckless” and “self-defeating,” arguing that the administration is “falling into the trap of a new Cold War” that, among other consequences, “would only serve to exaggerate China’s weight.” The president’s use of authoritarian rhetoric, the platform states, “will not make us ‘tough on China’” but “would be a gift to the Chinese Communist Party.” 

China played a limited role in speeches at the actual DNC, garnering only four mentions over the course of the convention, including one by Biden. Two mentions criticized Trump’s handling of COVID-19 and his much-maligned kindness to authoritarian leaders. The other two noted the need for trade reform and renewed American manufacturing.  

While the RNC’s efforts to recycle or adapt its 2016 platform led to criticisms and speculation, the RNC adopted a resolution on August 22 saying that it “has unanimously voted to forego the Convention Committee on Platform…” because “it did not want a small contingent of delegates formulating a new platform without the breadth of perspectives within the ever-growing Republican movement.” The resolution goes on to state that “the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.” The RNC has issued a platform for every election since 1856. The 2016 RNC platform referenced China 25 times. 

In place of a platform, the administration released a bulleted list of second-term priorities titled “President Trump: Fighting for You!” The list includes ten categories, including one titled “End Our Reliance on China.” Four out of five of the items in this category relate to divestment or decoupling: “Bring Back 1 Million Manufacturing Jobs from China;” “Tax Credits for Companies that Bring Back Jobs from China;” “Allow 100% Expensing Deductions for Essential Industries like Pharmaceuticals and Robotics who Bring Back their Manufacturing to the United States;” “No Federal Contracts for Companies who Outsource to China.” The final point refers to the handling of COVID-19: “Hold China Fully Accountable for Allowing the Virus to Spread around the World.” 

Over the four-day RNC, China was explicitly referenced approximately 101 times, with 16 made by President Trump during his acceptance speech. While these references often had compounded or overlapping functions, they generally operated along three narratives: expressing grievances against China; depicting Joe Biden and the Democratic party as weak on China; depicting President Trump as strong on China. The phrase “China virus” was used seven times during the convention, all by the president.  

Numerous speakers made remarks on China, including Senator Tom Cotton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and the president. Over the course of the convention, speakers described Biden in relation to China as “a total pushover,” criticized his 2013 trip to China, blamed him for China’s global ascension, and referred to him as “Beijing Biden.” One of the more controversial speakers was Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who was brought to the United States under the Obama/Biden administration. His endorsement of President Trump was met with criticism by fellow Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao.   

One oft-repeated claim throughout the convention was that China favors Joe Biden because he is soft on China, with President Trump saying in his speech that China “desperately wants him to win. I can tell you that upon very good information.” This claim, a version of which was repeated by Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi in an interview, is not incorrect but is inaccurate.  

The foremost public information on this matter when the comments were made was a statement by National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina released on August 7. The statement expressed concern “about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran” to influence the outcome of the November elections. The section on China does not mention Joe Biden, and its assessment is that “China prefers that President Trump—whom Beijing sees as unpredictable—does not win reelection.” There is no mention of China viewing either candidate as tough or lenient. 

Biden is only mentioned in relation to Russia. That section of the statement begins “We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden…” and goes on to say that “[s]ome Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.” 

Tough on China: How Voters Perceive Biden v. Trump

Both presidential candidates have made efforts to portray themselves as tough on China. While polls taken from May to September on this issue suggest that neither candidate dominates the other in this context, those surveyed express slightly more confidence in President Trump to handle China even in polls that show an overall lead for Biden as president.  

Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted from May 15-18 among 1,994 registered voters showed a slim edge for Joe Biden. Among all registered voters, 40 percent said they trusted Biden more to handle relations with China, compared to 38 percent that had more trust in Trump, with 21 percent answering “Don’t know/No opinion.” The survey had a margin of error of two percentage points.  

In a poll conducted by NBC News/Wall Street Journal from May 28 to June 2 among 1,000 registered voters, 43 percent said Trump would be better at dealing with China, compared to 40 percent who answered Biden. The margin of error was 3.1 percentage points. 

The New York Times/Siena College Research Institute poll taken from June 8-16 polled 3,870 registered voters in six swing states (margin of error in parentheses): Arizona (4.3), Florida (4.6), Michigan (4.3), North Carolina (4.1), Pennsylvania (4.2), and Wisconsin (4.3). While Biden led in all six states, respondents differed on who would handle China better. Four states answered Trump: Arizona (49 percent to Biden’s 43); Florida (51 to 41 percent); North Carolina (49 to 42 percent); and Pennsylvania (50 to 41 percent). Biden led in Michigan (47 to 42 percent) and Wisconsin (46 to 45 percent).  

The Harvard-Harris poll taken from July 21-23 of 1,932 registered voters also asked respondents which candidate would do a better job of handling relations with China. Joe Biden led the poll, with 54 percent compared to Trump’s 46 percent.  

From August 29 to September 1, Fox News conducted a survey of likely voters in Arizona, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. The poll was conducted among 1,500 US adult citizens, with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. While Biden led in all three states, opinions again differed as to who is better suited to handle China. In Arizona, respondents expressed slightly more trust in Biden, with 44 percent to Trump’s 43 percent. In North Carolina, 48 percent trusted Trump more compared to 43 percent for Biden. In Wisconsin, 45 percent trusted Trump more, while 44 percent trusted Biden. 


On November 4, 2017, China passed the 10th amendment to Criminal Law, making disrespect of the national anthem a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. This move aims to further legislate respect for the nation and brought treatment of the national anthem in line with desecration of the national flag and symbol. The newly expanded Article 299 defines the following acts as an insult to the national anthem: 

  1. maliciously altering the lyrics or music of the “March of the Volunteers;”  
  2. performing it in a distorted or derogatory manner, or otherwise desecrating its solemnity. 

There have been few if any reports of anyone being criminally pursued for insulting the anthem. The amended Article 299 makes these acts a criminal offense only when the circumstances are serious without explaining the criteria to determine seriousness. At the time of writing, all publicized cases have only resulted in administrative punishment, except for one case Dui Hua discovered involving an Almighty God member. 

On December 18, 2019, a district-level court in Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps sentenced a group of 12 Han Almighty God members to prison terms from two years and six months to six years. All but one of them were convicted of Article 300 “organizing a cult to undermine implementation of law.”  Police discovered the lyrics of “the Song of Satan’s Victory”” from an electronic file and cited witnesses’ testimonies as saying that the song was similar in tune to the national anthem. The song was composed by Hu Liancai (胡连彩) at the church’s behest in 2018. The judgment stated that Almighty God “silently sang” the song in public during weekly national flag raising ceremony in Chepaizi Reclamation Area. 

Despite being a member of Almighty God, Hu was sentenced to 30 months in prison not for Article 300, but for maliciously altering the lyrics of the national anthem under the Article 299. Hu’s codefendants who disseminated or contributed to the altered lyrics were convicted only of Article 300 but are serving longer prison sentences. The judgment did not state the extent to which the national anthem was modified; nor did it substantiate how or whether the anthem was performed in a distorted or derogatory manner. This first known criminal case appears to suggest that being a member of a banned religious group could be an important factor to determine whether the circumstances are serious in national anthem cases. 


Featured: The Dui Hua Foundation 2019 Annual Report

See Also: Press Statement: Hong Kong Residents, Convicted of Spying for the British, Released from Guangdong Prisons 

SAN FRANCISCO (August 26, 2020) — Two Hong Kong residents, both former employees of the New China News Agency (Xinhua) and naturalized United Kingdom (UK) citizens, have been released from prisons in Guangdong Province after serving 17 years of their life sentences for spying for the UK.

Read more here. 


John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s human rights advocacy prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999. 

The Forgotten, Part I

Students carrying a pro-democracy banner on May 4, 1989. Image credit: Vision Times 

In early 1999, I became aware of an opportunity to secure a grant from a foundation based on the East Coast to help fund my work on behalf of political prisoners in China. For nine years I had been underwriting that work by myself, drawing on the profits of my consulting business. I had never applied for a grant. 

I quickly found out that I needed a “pass through”– an organization to accept the grant and monitor its use. My wife and a good friend who worked in finance joined with me to establish Dui Hua in order to accept grants from foundations and governments. Dui Hua was incorporated as a non-profit charity on April 16, 1999. 

I had already drawn up a proposal which I had submitted to the grant-making foundation. My proposal would focus on turning up names of political prisoners in Chinese newspapers, periodicals, and books. Having found the names of three previously unknown counterrevolutionaries in a Jilin Province newspaper, I was convinced that an effort to examine provincial newspapers would yield the names of many more obscure and forgotten political prisoners.  

After receiving the proposal, the foundation sent it to three China experts for comment. The reception was underwhelming. Two of the three reviewers believed I wouldn’t find many names. One reviewer flatly stated that the Chinese government does not publish sensitive information on political prisoners in publicly available publications available in libraries or online. A senior officer of the grant maker asked me how many names I thought I’d find. I replied that if I could find 100 names of hitherto unknown prisoners, I would consider my project a success. 

In May, I was given the good news that my proposal had been accepted. I promptly set up a trip to Hong Kong, site of the University Services Center (USC) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I had found the Jilin newspaper at the Center and I would start my search there. 

The University Services Center at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where John Kamm conducted research on political prisoners. Image credit: CUHKtrove Facebook account 

USC was established in 1963 in Kowloon, and for many years it was considered one of the best places to do research on contemporary China. It was ably led by my friend, scholar, and Tibetologist John Dolfin for many years. He had amassed complete runs of more than 250 national and provincial newspapers and more than 1,000 periodicals. The USC moved to Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1988, without John Dolfin. It was housed on three floors (a basement and two upper floors) of the university library; the basement was where the newspapers were stored, and I went there straightaway upon arriving at the campus. 

I started by selecting several cities where the spring 1989 protests had been especially widespread and long-lasting. I examined newspapers for the months of April, May, and June 1989. After four hours of work I had found nothing of use. Maybe the reviewers had been right after all. 

Discouraged, I took the elevator up to the eighth floor and headed for the section where books on policing and courts were housed. Eureka! I found scores of provincial and county yearbooks, specialized yearbooks, and multi-year records published by public security bureaus, procuratorates, and prison bureaus, as well as sentencing records of courts. Several books were marked “internal (neibu).” I quickly began photocopying accounts of political cases that recorded the names of those detained by public security and state security bureaus, tried by courts, and held in prisons. 

I made eight more trips to Hong Kong before the end of 2000 and did research at USC on 15 occasions, assisted at times by two university students. By the end of 2000, we had recorded the names of more than 300 previously unknown individuals detained for counterrevolution and endangering state security in the 1980s and 1990s. I had far exceeded the target of 100 names.  

Wang Jun

On my trip to USC in September 2000, I came across Sentencing Records of Shaanxi Province, published in 1994. It contained a detailed account of what had happened to Wang Jun (王军), an 18-year-old temporary worker for the Passenger Transport Section of the Xi’an Railway Branch Office who was arrested for taking part in “a serious beating, smashing, looting, and burning political disturbance” on April 22, 1989, weeks before the killings in Tiananmen Square. The Xi’an unrest was the first major protest following the death of reformist party secretary Hu Yaobang in Beijing on April 15, 1989. 

(Left) Obituary for Hu Yaobang released by Xinhua News Agency on April 15, 1989. (Right) Beijing university students enter Tiananmen Square for Hu’s funeral. Image credit: 

Wang was accused of attacking the provincial government building, using rocks and bricks to attack the people’s armed police, and smashing several streetlights. Afterwards, he and a few other young people got into the provincial high court and procuratorate offices, where they broke windows, and set fire to three cars, one motorcycle, and one bicycle. They finished by breaking into the office of the procuratorate’s motor pool where they stole a calculator, pens, and cassette tapes. They were apprehended on the scene. Wang allegedly confessed to what he had done. 

Two weeks after his arrest, Wang Jun was tried by the Xi’an Intermediate People’s Court and sentenced to death for the crimes of arson and robbery. Wang Jun appealed the sentence to the Shaanxi High People’s Court, and his father testified that his son was mentally deficient and pleaded for leniency. A medical examination was ordered. It found that while Wang’s mental development had been arrested, he knew right from wrong and had to accept responsibility for his acts. 

The Sentencing Committee of the High Court was divided between those who favored immediate execution and those who favored a sentence of death with two-year reprieve. They sought guidance from the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) in Beijing. The SPC favored death with two-year reprieve and ordered the sentencing committee to make a new judgment: on October 13, 1989 Wang Jun was sentenced to death with two-year reprieve.  

I gathered up the photocopies I collected at USC and returned to San Francisco. There, working with staff, index cards for each case were filled out, and I checked other sources for information on the names we had collected. I looked at Human Rights Watch’s Detained in China and Tibet, published in 1994. It listed Wang Jun as having been executed. 

In October 1999, Dui Hua published the first in a series of Occasional Publications. It was titled “Individuals Detained During the Spring 1989 Disturbances in China.” It covered 15 individuals from five provinces, 13 of whose names had not appeared in publications outside of China. One of the cases covered was that of Wang Jun. “Individuals uncovered by this search will be included in future lists submitted to the Chinese government by Dui Hua,” I wrote in the introduction. 

The first of Dui Hua’s Occasional Publications series. (Left) The cover. (Right) The beginning of the section on Wang Jun. Image credit: The Dui Hua Foundation 

The first list that included Wang Jun’s name was faxed to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) on January 11, 2000. On a visit to Beijing in June 2000, I handed over another list with Wang Jun’s name to MOJ officials. In 2002, I began lobbying the United States and the European Union to include Wang Jun’s name on prisoner lists submitted to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs at their respective human rights dialogues.  

Finally, in August 2003, the MFA gave a written response to the United States. 

Read Part II here.