Chinafile: Presidential Candidates on China

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At this point in the campaign cycle, no one is expecting detailed policy positions from the candidates on Asia. The fat briefing books on regional policy emerge in the general campaign and ultimately in planning for the transition as advisors and then serious policy teams are put together.

But we certainly have seen a fair amount of China-bashing to date among the Republican candidates. These range from Donald Trump’s blunt style (“China’s taking our jobs and taking our money”) to more nuanced outings such as Senator Marco Rubio’s at the Wall Street Journal, in which he advances policies that appear quite similar to what the Obama administration is currently doing (the TPP, re-enforcing ties with allies, freedom-of-navigation exercises).

Chinafile has done the service of collecting all statements by the presidential candidates on China, most of which have come from the many Republican contenders. Many of these references are short and off-the-cuff (on human rights, on trade, on the South China Sea). Marco Rubio seems to speak in full sentences and in one debate intervention suggested that the Obama administration was weak on Taiwan.

But there are also some real doozies on offer. In the fourth presidential debate, Donald Trump opined that “the TPP is a horrible deal. It is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble. It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.” After some back and forth, Rand Paul finally pointed out that China was in fact not a party to the TPP negotiations and thus not a signatory (and would have an incredibly difficult time joining; although sentiment is shifting, the TPP has to date been seen precisely as an agreement designed to exclude China).

In any case, this dossier will be worth following as the debate between Democrats and Republicans is more directly joined; Bernie Sanders has also made references to jobs being shipped to China. The approach candidates take may or may not influence ultimate policies, but they are a useful indicator of how they assess the national mood toward China. As the Chinafile piece notes, that mood is increasingly negative; a recent Pew poll shows the trend.

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