Donald Trump alleged during a U.N. Security Council meeting yesterday that China "has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election." It was a strange claim for a variety of reasons, and a few hours later, reporters pressed the president to back up his claim with some evidence.
In response, Trump meandered for a while before eventually bragging about how much Chinese officials respect him.
"...I like China and I like President Xi a lot. I think he's a friend of mine, he may not be a friend of mine anymore, but I think he probably respects -- from what I hear, if you look at Mr. Pillsbury, the leading authority on China."He was on a good show, I won't mention the name of the show, recently, and he was saying that China has total respect for Donald Trump and for Donald Trump's very, very large brain."
Again referring to himself in third person, the president later added that the Chinese "are doing studies on Donald Trump."
(The reference to "Mr. Pillsbury" was likely pointing to Michael Pillsbury, a conservative author who frequently appears on Fox News.)
Let's put aside, at least for now, the fact that genuinely bright people generally don't feel the need to speak publicly about their "very, very large" brains. Instead, let's note two substantive angles to Trump's odd rhetoric.
First, the Republican may take comfort in the idea that Beijing respects him, but there's ample evidence to the contrary. China's state-run media tends to characterize Trump as a clownish buffoon. The New York Times reported last month that as the White House's trade war has intensified, Chinese media has "grown more strident in their mockery of the president and his policies."
Officials in Beijing have even trolled Trump at times with Obama rhetoric: Li Chenggang, an assistant minister at China's Ministry of Commerce, recently responded to tariffs by saying that when "they go low, we go high."
Second, China ridicules Trump, the size of his cranium notwithstanding, because the American president has given his rivals so many reasons to. The Republican has repeatedly backed down from confrontations with Beijing, usually in embarrassing ways, on everything from currency manipulation to ZTE to the "One China" policy.
Maybe China will have "total respect" for Trump when he gives the country reason to respect him?