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Just four mentions? China fades from limelight in second Clinton-Trump debate

China – a key topic in the first US presidential debate – faded out of the picture almost completely in the second debate as Donald Trump’s sexist comments, Hillary Clinton’s email controversy and other domestic issues dominated the session.

There was no real debate between the two presidential candidates about the United States’ biggest trading partner and rising geopolitical challenger in Asia.

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The word “China” was mentioned all of four times as the pair discussed America’s energy policy. This compared with the 12 mentions China received in the first debate last month.

“We have to bring back our workers. You take a look at what is happening to steel … and China dumping steel, which is killing our workers. We have to guard our energy companies,” Trump said towards the end of the 90-minute session on Sunday night, US time.

“China is illegally dumping steel in the United States and Donald is buying it to build his buildings,” Clinton responded.

“That is something I fought against as a senator and I would have a trade prosecutor to make sure we don’t get taken advantage of by China, on steel or anything else.”

Earlier, Trump had also mentioned China, once, in passing as he discussed US growth, saying that a growth rate of 7 per cent in mainland China would be considered a “catastrophe” as he unfavourably compared it with America’s low growth rates.

China’s present growth rate is below 7 per cent.

In their first debate two weeks ago, the two presidential candidates touched on China on a range of topics covering trade, climate change, cybersecurity, Iran and North Korea.

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Chinese experts say the noticeably fewer mentions of China in the latest debate showed a deepening mismatch between America’s domestic politics and its international role.

Meng Yabo, a US affairs expert from China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, said it partly reflected the differences between US elites and common folks.

“Common American voters” cared more about things directly related to their livelihood, and domestic issues have received more attention in the Trump-Clinton debate than in the previous two elections, Meng said.

“But the general public’s indifference to serious topics such as US-China ties … doesn’t mean the US elites are caring less about Washington’s international role.”

Zhang Xiaoming, an international relations expert from Peking University, said the fewer mentions of China reflected a kind of blindness to a reality where China was gaining prominence in America’s international issues including matters such as the South China Sea and the yuan exchange rate.

On the other hand, Beijing appeared to remain largely indifferent to the event leading to the upcoming US election.

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The Chinese government censored online coverage of the debate – as it did with the first.

Mainland Chinese media and online comments were focused on the 2005 video that showed Trump bragging about groping women and trying to seduce a married woman.

Global Times, a Beijing-backed tabloid, published an editorial titled “Is Trump’s presidential campaign over?”, analysing the possible impacts from the tape exposing Trump’s lewd conversation about women.

“The public is fully aware that neither Trump nor Clinton are role models. Trump’s scandal also reveals the dark side of US mainstream elites,” the editorial wrote.