China Mocks Report It Tapped Trump’s iPhone (and Plugs Its Own Competitor)

BEIJING — China on Thursday ridiculed but did not exactly deny an article in The New York Times detailing how Chinese intelligence agents eavesdropped on cellphone conversations President Trump had with friends in hopes of gaining insights into the administration’s policies.

A spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, suggested that “some people in the United States” were competing for “the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay,” and even used a familiar Trump trope, warning the newspaper that it risked being called “fake news.”

She went on to warn that the most secure way to avoid telephone intercepts was not to use “any modern communication devices.”

Almost certainly prepared for questions about the matter, Ms. Hua seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to discuss the article’s details. She even offered a plug for a Chinese competitor of the iPhones that Mr. Trump favors — to the apparent dismay of his security advisers.

“If they are very worried about iPhones being tapped, they can use Huawei,” she said, referring to the telecommunications giant that has itself raised security concerns in the United States as potentially vulnerable to Chinese intelligence agencies.

In Russia, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, responded similarly, treating the article with humor while not denying it.

“The newspaper probably has some detailed information on this subject that can be a justification for publishing such information,” he said, according to Ria Novosti.

According to current and former administration officials, Mr. Trump has continued to use his personal cellphone to make calls, in part to sidestep security and reporting safeguards otherwise required for official calls to and from the White House. The officials told The Times that the Chinese and the Russians had managed to eavesdrop on the calls, prompting intelligence officials to warn Mr. Trump that his cellphone calls are not secure.

China, in particular, hoped to discern what Mr. Trump thinks and who shapes his thinking as the two countries fight a protracted trade war. Officials in China regularly quiz American visitors on the subject, saying they remain confused by the administration’s convoluted, contradictory and shifting views and positions.

Ms. Hua’s remarks, made in response to a question at the ministry’s regularly scheduled briefing, quickly flashed as alerts by Chinese news organizations that until then had not reported on what would in China otherwise amount to a highly classified operation to eavesdrop on the president of the United States.

The Global Times, an outspoken state-run newspaper, described Ms. Hua’s response as that of a sorceress able to wield godlike magic. “Hua Chunying fired three shots,” the newspaper said in Chinese. “Every shot was more lethal than the former one.”