COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A “China is not 10 feet tall” speech by the U.S. ambassador to China has resonated with the international community as it seeks to confront the nation’s increasingly assertive military and economic ambitions.
The address at the Coalition Against Daesh conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Thursday night was decried as “anti-China” and Trump loyalist by some, with Internet memes mocking the address later going viral.
Trump’s speech to the conference, which saw him denounce China and the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was not endorsed by the UN, which has branded the State Department’s foreign ministry from several continents.
Chris Wilson, a former State Department official who has worked on China, told CNN the speech was a political move.
“It’s very awkward. It strikes the wrong tone with China. I think that that’s something that I think was picked up by the people that were there,” he said.
“The problem is that the problem with China is it’s a complicated relationship. It’s not black and white. There’s so many nuances, things that we may not know about it. And we know far more about America’s relationship with China than we do our relationship with China, and that’s where the administration’s frustrations are about it.”
In an interview with Australia’s ABC News, Ambassador Terry Branstad dismissed calls that the speech was “anti-China.”
“I don’t think it was anti-China. I think that we stand up for the fact that they have influence and we disagree with them on some things,” he said.
However, he added that there may be “some distance” between the United States and China on certain issues.
In his address, Branstad expressed U.S. solidarity with countries that “have the courage to speak out” against the Chinese Communist Party, including Turkey, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.
‘China is not 10 feet tall’
China uses its geopolitical influence to collect votes on international bodies, with the country consistently being the most influential and powerful country.
North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, is seen as firmly maintaining the country’s relationship with China, regardless of the U.S. request for Pyongyang to disarm, as he continues his private and more recent border visits with President Xi Jinping.
The bilateral ties are thought to go far beyond the country’s economic achievements. As the world’s biggest creditor nation, China loaned North Korea, suffering from the effects of sanctions, as much as $1 billion.
Speaking at the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously said: “The DPRK (North Korea)’s continued trading of goods on the black market has deepened their dependence on China.”
With their holdings amounting to more than $100 billion, Beijing has, for decades, wielded considerable influence on the United Nations.
At the recent Security Council vote on North Korea, China was the sole vote against the U.S. draft, voting against both sanctions resolution H.R. 2397 and M.R.2018, on the grounds that both infringe upon human rights.
Pompeo voiced his “disappointment” in the vote, adding that China would stand with North Korea when they committed to denuclearization.
As head of a speechwriting team for then-candidate Trump during the election campaign, Branstad was involved in previous contentious relationships between China and the U.S.
In an opinion piece for HuffPost in September 2016, Branstad penned: “If China is not 80 feet tall, we will find ourselves standing next to a rusty old 30-foot skyscraper built by our good friends in Taiwan.”
— Natasha Boddy and Mike Loboda contributed to this report.