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Donald Trump spent years cultivating business projects in China, where he maintained a previously unknown bank account, The New York Times reported Tuesday, as the US president attempts to portray election rival Joe Biden as weaker on Beijing.

Trump has spent recent days promoting a murky claim that Biden's son Hunter sold access to his father in Ukraine and China when he was vice president under Barack Obama.

It is Trump, however, who maintained an office in China during his first run for president, and partnered with a major government-controlled company, the Times reported.

Trump additionally keeps a previously unknown bank account in China, controlled by Trump International Hotels Management, according to an analysis of his tax records by the paper. It is one of only three foreign nations - including Britain and Ireland - in which he does so.

The tax records show the company "paid $188,561 in taxes in China while pursuing licensing deals there from 2013 to 2015," the Times reported.

Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten said the company had "opened an account with a Chinese bank having offices in the United States in order to pay the local taxes."

"No deals, transactions or other business activities ever materialised and, since 2015, the office has remained inactive," he told The Times. "Though the bank account remains open, it has never been used for any other purpose."

Under his "America First" banner, Trump has portrayed China as the greatest threat to the United States and global democracy.

He has launched a massive trade war that has cost China billions of dollars, harangued Chinese tech firms and laid blame for the coronavirus pandemic with Beijing.

Even so, in 2008 Trump attempted an ultimately unsuccessful office tower project in Guangzhou, and in 2012 he opened a Shanghai office, the Times said.

Additionally, Trump Hotel Collection (THC) negotiated with the State Grid Corporation of China - an electricity company, and the country's largest state-owned enterprise - to brand and manage a major development in Beijing, sources told AFP. But the bid was later abandoned.

Biden's income tax returns and financial dealings meanwhile show no business connection to China.