Beijing Accuses Bolton Of Attempting To "Smear" Country

At this point in his tenure as National Security Advisor, are there any geopolitical adversaries of the US whom John Bolton hasn't offended with his aggressive rhetoric?

On Sunday, Bolton said during an interview with Fox's Maria Bartiromo that China's efforts to influence public opinion in the US and Australia went far beyond anything Russia had managed to accomplish (just the latest installment in the Trump administration's push to tie China to Russia as a major geopolitical adversary of the US).

Bolton

Bolton said China's influence campaign "is far greater in magnitude than any other foreign effort" and includes long-term efforts to influence public opinion in the US via think tanks and nonprofits like the Confucius Center.

"It really is far greater in magnitude than any other foreign effort we have seen in history to influence American opinion and it's not just confined to the United States," Mr Bolton told Fox News' Maria Bartiromo.

"They are doing it in Australia and other countries - close friends of ours.

"So this really goes to the core of how you maintain a free and open society in this country when other countries are trying to influence it the way that China has.

"It goes well beyond just election hacking although we certainly have been concerned about China doing that as well."

He also warned about China's military buildup in the South China Sea, a particularly sensitive bilateral issue, and the US's national security concerns about Huawei.

Though a longtime China hawk, it was still surprising to hear Bolton spouting such controversial accusations at a time when the US and China are struggling to hammer out a trade agreement. And in a sign that his words did not go unnoticed in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang accused Bolton during a Tuesday press conference of trying to "smear" China.

"When Mr. Bolton took the interview he talked about a lot of issues, made wrong remarks about the South China Sea, the Confucius Institute and other topics related to China, smearing China’s image and serving U.S. political gains and calculations," Lu said. "We urge the U.S. to drop the arrest warrant and extradition request and we urge Canada to release immediately Ms. Meng and ensure her safe return to China."

After Turkish President Recep Tayyi Erdogan snubbed Bolton following similarly controversial comments about Turkey last year, we imagine Bolton's next trip to Beijing - indeed, if there is one - will be similarly awkward. Maybe even enough to impact currency markets, as Erdogan's snub did.