Where Republican Candidates Stand on China

Where Republican Candidates Stand on China
Former President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with attendees at the 2023 Turning Point Action Conference at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Photo by

As the Republican primary race intensifies, the party's potential nominees for the 2024 presidential election present a wide spectrum of views on one of the United States' most complex foreign policy issues: China.

Former President Donald Trump is the preferred candidate of an increasing majority of Republican primary voters (54%) in nationwide polls. During his presidency, Trump took a tough stance on China characterized by a trade war that involved imposing tariffs on Chinese imports with the goal to reduce interdependence.

Looking ahead to a potential second term, Trump expressed his intention to entirely sever the United States' reliance on China. His plans include a gradual reduction in the import of essential goods from China and restrictions on American firms' investments in the country.

“We will revoke China's most favored nation trade status, and adopt a four-year plan to phase out all Chinese imports of essential goods — everything from electronics to steel to pharmaceuticals," said Trump in his campaign video this summer.

Following Trump with about 13% of Republican primary voters is Florida’s current governor Ron DeSantis. His positions have been characterized by concerns about various aspects including China’s economic practices, intellectual property theft, and the pressing need for robust measures to safeguard American industries and national security interests. DeSantis openly supports the idea of revoking trade relations with China, should he be elected as President of the United States.

In a significant move this spring Gov. DeSantis signed three bills into law, all with the overarching goal of countering the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) within the state of Florida, including acquisitions of agricultural and strategic land, digital data, and education system.

The runner-up after DeSantis is Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and former United Nations ambassador. During her tenure as South Carolina's Governor from 2011 to 2017, Haley welcomed significant Chinese investments in the state, including a $218 million investment by Keer Group in 2013 and a $300 million investment by China Jushi Co. Ltd. in 2016.

But Haley’s position on China changed once she announced her candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections. She has been labeling China as an "enemy" and criticizing the Biden Administration for not adopting a stricter policy against this economic giant. She has stated that, if elected President, she would pressure American businesses to disengage from China.

"The line between Chinese investors and the Chinese Communist Party is exceptionally thin. The national security risk is too great. We must prevent China from buying more land and force it to sell what it already owns,” she said this summer.

Vivek Ramaswamy, the businessman turned politician is currently running closely with Haley. While previously involved in the Chinese market through his company, Roivant Sciences, his rhetoric has shifted toward a strict foreign policy.

Ramaswamy has pledged to ensure economic independence for the United States from China while pushing for fair trade practices if elected as president. He also intends to encourage American companies to transition their supply chains away from China towards allied markets, such as India.

“The CCP turns U.S. CEOs into its puppets by providing market access to China in return for doing CCP’s geopolitical bidding. We need to *declare independence* from Communist China, now. That won’t be easy but we can rise to the occasion if we know what we’re sacrificing for,” he wrote on 'X', the company formerly known as Twitter.

With about 5% of Republican primary voters is Mike Pence, the former Vice President of the United States and former governor of Indiana. His stance has been marked by support for trade policies involving tariffs, addressing trade imbalances and tackling issues related to intellectual property and market access.

In the last couple of years, Pence has actively criticized Biden’s administration for being “weak” and not taking tough steps against China, even though the Biden administration has not made much of a departure from the China policies Trump started during his presidency.

“There’s an old saying that weakness arouses evil. And my sense is that China senses weakness in this administration,” he said in 2021 about Biden’s administration’s decision to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and WHO after Trump’s withdrawal.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has joined the Republican 2024 presidential race, presenting himself as the primary adversary of former President Trump, all the while reaffirming his commitment to longstanding conservative policy stances.

He has been a vocal advocate for a more assertive and strategic approach to dealing with China. Back in 2015, during his tenure as governor, Christie proposed a military approach to China as a means to establish clear boundaries on that country's actions. Today he emphasizes the importance of safeguarding America's economic interests and national security while promoting fair and reciprocal trade practices.

“Every day we will be fighting to make America the winner in this competition against China,” he said in June 2023.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott believes that streamlining regulations would incentivize U.S. companies to relocate from China, citing domestic regulations as a factor driving their preference.

“I think we are in the era of a new Cold War without any question,” Scott said in May 2023.

Larry Elder, a prominent talk-show host, has raised concerns about China's increasing influence in the United States, highlighting Chinese investments in farmland near military bases, the establishment of police stations, and the funding of academic chairs at American universities as examples.

“They have infiltrated this country like a Trojan horse. They've endowed all these China chairs all over American colleges and universities, in my opinion, to indoctrinate students into not believing that China is the oppressive authoritarian regime that it is,” he mentioned recently.

Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson remains open to a trade alliance with China but thinks it must prioritize American interests and values. In 2022, he supported the ban on TikTok from Arkansas state services due to data security concerns, but before, during his 2017 governorship, he announced significant Chinese investments of $1.4 billion in his state.

Governor Doug Burgum's stance on China has evolved recently, transitioning to a more stringent policy approach. While he initially supported a substantial Chinese investment project in North Dakota near the Grand Forks Air Force Base, he became more cautious due to national security concerns during a federal review process. In his recent statements, he identifies China as a major concern.

“We are in a cold war in China, we just won’t admit it. But the way you work your way through a cold war is you win it economically,” he said.

Will Hurd, a former U.S. representative and CIA clandestine officer, stands apart from many Republicans by advocating for the possibility of maintaining a trade relationship with China. He believes that U.S. foreign policy should prioritize peaceful relations and a mutually beneficial trade partnership with China, emphasizing that the conflict lies primarily with the Chinese government, not the Chinese people or Chinese Americans. While he frequently characterizes the situation as a "cold war" with China, Hurd's rhetoric does not suggest a willingness to pursue military actions.

Ryan Binkley, a wealth advisor and pastor, has a less outspoken stance on China compared to other candidates. He envisions both China and the United States achieving success as economic powers, provided that this success is built upon a level playing field characterized by fair trade and investment practices and the protection of intellectual property.

Steve Laffey, a businessman, has consistently characterized China as "the adversary" due to its non-democratic nature, citing concerns such as internment camps and extensive surveillance. He has expressed his intent to distance the United States from China and gradually reduce the partnership if he becomes president.

“The U.S. should not trade with China,” he said in March.

Perry Johnson, a businessman turned politician, has primarily concentrated his campaign on domestic economic matters and has not extensively discussed China. In one interview, he described himself as "anti-China" without providing specific details about his position.