Now President Donald Trump says China should investigate his possible election opponent Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The implications are amazing.
Viewed with the right skepticism, Trump's remarks Thursday suggest that he might corruptly skew American foreign policy to get a rival power to go after a domestic foe.
Trump echoed his own chat with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, when the American president asked him for a probe of the Bidens. Trump then was holding up a missile delivery for Ukraine, which happened to be a subject of the same discussion and had the scent of a quid pro quo.
This time, Trump said he hasn't yet asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to scrutinize the Bidens, but would start "thinking about it."
Not that there's a distinction. By talking on television, Trump has now effectively told the Chinese, in front of the rest of the world, that they have the power to make him happy regardless of what it may mean for the nation as a whole.
And in the same Q&A, Trump said unprompted regarding trade and tariffs: "I have a lot of options on China, but if they don't do what we want, we have tremendous power.”
He has thus wrapped his partisan interests into U.S. policy in a uniquely incoherent way.
Maybe it means he'd ease up on tariffs if Beijing does him this favor. Perhaps it would even please Trump if they created fake allegations against the Democratic targets du jour.
That's hard to know, but it is also hard to imagine Xi and his entourage would not hear this message as a request to carry out a witch hunt. Domestic dissidents are known to be dealt with severely in China.
Xi is accustomed to human-rights activists in the West asking his government to stop repressing Falun Gong, Tibet and Uighur Muslims. Did he ever expect an American president to even consider asking him to jam up a fellow American?
For that matter, Trump's abandonment of the traditional American posture by hailing the 70th anniversary of the communist republic, rankled some key Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for one, called Xi's nation as it now stands “a modern version of Maoist China.” He slammed its government for violence against pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, a matter on which Trump has been weak.
Projection is a perennial aspect of Trump's performance. The business actions of his own son and daughter in China, Russia and India have drawn questions. So it suits him to throw that kind of mud at the Bidens.
Ordinarily you'd think that if the president promoted an allegation — especially overseas against a conventional American politician — he'd have credibility.
But this is Trump. In his short political career, he has accused his predecessor of founding ISIS, blamed nonexistent voter fraud for losing the popular vote, blamed the Russia probe on a nonexistent cabal, bought into the canard of Barack Obama being illegally elected, peddled unproven claims about the Clintons and uranium, pushed false links between a GOP rival's father and the JFK assassination, suggested Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered, claimed migrant "caravans" were funded by philanthropist George Soros, and cast doubt on the efficacy of vaccines and the American judicial system.
Trump says over and over that under predecessors, foreign countries "laughed at us."
If they're not laughing now, they have no sense of humor.