A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump Campaign’s Misleading Ad Attacking Biden on China


The Trump campaign has launched a misleading attack ad that misrepresents Joe Biden’s statements on the Trump administration’s travel restrictions, and leaves the false impression that former U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, a Chinese-American, is a Chinese official.

The ad says that Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was opposed to President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions on China — the Biden campaign says he was for them — and generally strives to portray Biden as far too soft on the Chinese regime.

Ironically, some of Biden’s positive statements about the Chinese echo statements by Trump.

Near the end, the online ad, which debuted on YouTube on April 9 and had been viewed more than 170,000 times by the following day, seems to raise questions about Biden’s cognitive powers.

After depicting Biden as opposed to Trump’s China policies, quoting him as saying he rejected “hysterical xenophobia” and “fearmongering,” the ad pivots with the words, “until he forgot he did.” It then has a clip of Biden saying of Trump, “I complimented him on dealing with China, ” followed by an image of Biden with a goofy grin. Then it has a clip of Biden saying, “I’m not going nuts.”

The image of Biden with Locke comes about 40 seconds into the one-minute ad and is in the midst of a montage of photos of Biden with Chinese leaders. Democrats were quick to condemn the image, which provided no context, leaving the impression that Locke, who was born in Washington state and also served as governor of Washington and as President Barack Obama’s secretary of commerce, was a Chinese official.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who is Taiwanese-American, described the ad in a tweet as “infuriating,” adding, “Gary Locke is as American as the day is long.” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates called for the ad to be “pulled immediately.”

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh defended the ad, tweeting, in response to the image of Biden and Locke from the ad, “The shot with the flags specifically places Biden in Beijing in 2013. It’s for a reason. That’s the Hunter Biden trip. Memory Lane for ol’ Joe.”

The new ad includes a photo of Joe and his son Hunter Biden with audio from a news report saying “Biden’s son inked a billion dollar deal with a subsidiary of the Bank of China.” That’s largely accurate.

As we have reported, Hunter Biden was involved with the cross-border private equity fund involving some state-owned financial companies in China that had hoped to raise $1.5 billion in 2014 for investments. It’s unclear when that goal was reached, but the company website said as of 2019 it managed assets worth the equivalent of over $2.1 billion in U.S. dollars.

In suggesting Biden opposed Trump’s travel restrictions on China,  the ad has a clip of Biden saying, “Banning all travel will not stop it.” But that misrepresents what Biden said — and he wasn’t even talking about China.

In his March 12 speech on the novel coronavirus pandemic, Biden said, “And it will not stop, banning all travel from Europe or any other part of the world may slow it, but as we’ve seen it will not stop it. And travel restrictions based on favoritism and politics rather than a risk will be counterproductive.”

So Biden was talking about the travel restrictions imposed on Europe, not China, and he was not registering blanket opposition to all travel restrictions, just those that are “based on favoritism and politics rather than a risk.”

The ad also refers twice to Biden attacking Trump for “hysterical xenophobia” to indicate his opposition to the China restrictions. That’s a matter of dispute.

As we have reported, on Jan. 31, the day the travel restrictions were announced, Biden, campaigning in Iowa, said that as the pandemic unfolds, Americans “need to have a president who they can trust what he says about it, that he is going to act rationally about it.” He added, “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia – hysterical xenophobia – and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science.”

Biden didn’t mention Trump’s travel restrictions on foreign nationals who had recently traveled to China in his speech, so it’s unclear what he meant when he criticized Trump’s “hysterical xenophobia.” The Biden campaign told us the candidate wasn’t referring to the travel rules, but rather to what it called Trump’s “long record of scapegoating others at a time when the virus was emerging from China.”

On April 3, the Biden campaign said its candidate backed the travel restrictions.

“Joe Biden supports travel bans that are guided by medical experts, advocated by public health officials, and backed by a full strategy,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, told CNN. “Science supported this ban, therefore he did too.”

The ad features a number of statements by Biden wrapping China in a warm embrace: “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. They’re good folks, folks.” Biden is also shown saying, “It is in our self-interest that China continue to prosper.” And “What a beautiful history we wrote together.”

But Trump, who did embark on a trade war with China, also has said many conciliatory things about the Chinese, and how the U.S. and China can help each other succeed.

For example, on Jan. 22 he tweeted, “One of the many great things about our just signed giant Trade Deal with China is that it will bring both the USA & China closer together in so many other ways. Terrific working with President Xi, a man who truly loves his country.”

In a meeting with China’s vice premier on Oct. 11, 2019, Trump said of the first phase of the trade deal reached with China, “Now we have a deal that I think ultimately is going to be just fantastic for China and fantastic for the United States.”

And on April 7, the president said at a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House,  “I like China.  I like — the Chinese people are phenomenal people.”

Correction, May 4: We originally misspelled Kate Bedingfield’s last name. We regret the error.