How the U.S. should navigate its contentious relationship with China and counter its growing influence will be a prominent foreign policy topic in the 2024 presidential election.
Republicans say the Biden administration’s response to China — widely viewed as the greatest geopolitical threat to the U.S. — has been inadequate.
Most have not explicitly laid out their own plans on how to deal with China. But many GOP candidates size up tensions between the U.S. and China in terms that are similar to Democrats, viewing the relationship as a potential new Cold War, though most also note the rivalry between the two countries is still less contentious than the U.S.-Soviet Untion relationship was. Some have called for the decoupling of the U.S. and China economies, while others say a move that drastic is not realistic.
Candidates have also hesitated to answer whether the U.S. would defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion, should any of them be elected president. The U.S. posture toward Taiwan is one of “strategic ambiguity,” although under the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. would help equip Taiwan, so that it could defend itself against attack.
Here’s what the 2024 GOP presidential candidates have said about China:
Former President Donald Trump has escalated his anti-China policies from his last campaign by essentially arguing for the decoupling of the U.S. and Chinese economies.
He has proposed universal baseline tariffs, revoking China’s Most Favored Nation trade status and phasing out all Chinese imports of essential goods within four years. Trump has also proposed barring U.S. companies from investing in China, banning China from buying U.S. farmland and revoking federal contracts to companies that outsource to China.
Trump’s campaign says the plan will allow the U.S. to “reclaim our economic independence from China.”
The former president began his first term in the White House by starting a trade war with China, imposing tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods. His Justice Department also launched the controversial China Initiative, which sought to crack down on Chinese economic espionage.
During the 2024 campaign he vowed to ramp up efforts to stop China from spying on the U.S., saying “a reformed FBI and Justice Department will be hunting down Chinese spies” and new visa and travel restrictions will “shut off Chinese access to American secrets.”
While Trump has taken a tough tone toward China, he has also made admiring statements about its authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping. Even after his presidency, Trump has continued to praise Xi, saying at a town hall in July, “Think of President Xi: Central casting. Brilliant guy. You know, when I say he’s brilliant, everyone says, ‘Oh, that’s terrible’ … Well, he runs 1.4 billion people with an iron fist. Smart, brilliant, everything perfect. There’s nobody in Hollywood like this guy.”
During an interview with Fox News on July 16, Trump declined to say whether the U.S. should help defend Taiwan from an attack from China if it meant the U.S. would be at war with China.
“If I answered that question it will put me in a very bad negotiating position,” he said before accusing Taiwan of taking away semiconductor business from the U.S.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has portrayed U.S.-China tensions as a new Cold War.
“If you look at where we are at this juncture in the 21st century, what the Soviet Union was to us, that’s really what China represents in terms of the threat to the free world,” he said during an interview with Nikkei Asia in April. “In many respects, the Chinese Communist Party is stronger than what the Soviet Union was, certainly economically.”
He has vowed to revoke China’s preferential trade status if he is elected president. Under his leadership, he would also “project power” to deter China from invading Taiwan, but he has avoided answering whether the U.S. would send forces to defend the self-governing island, which China wants to bring under its control.
As Florida governor, DeSantis signed several bills into law, including banning Chinese purchases of farmland and land near U.S. military bases and critical infrastructure in the state, and blocking TikTok on government devices and school networks. In doing so, he said the Chinese Communist Party is the “greatest geopolitical threat” to the U.S.
Nikki Haley, who served as former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, has criticized Trump’s approach to China as being too “singularly focused” on trade while he was in the White House.
In a June 27 policy speech on China, she said the Chinese military was “stronger” at the end of Trump’s presidency and he showed “moral weakness” in trying to befriend Chinese President Xi Jinping. She criticized President Biden for continuing to “dither” as China “is preparing its people for war.”
“Communist China is an enemy,” she said. “It is the most dangerous foreign threat we’ve faced since the Second World War.”
Laying out what her policy toward China would look like, Haley said her administration would respond domestically, economically and militarily.
Her proposals include pushing Congress to stop trade relations with China until the flow of fentanyl into the U.S. ends, revoking federal funding for universities who accept money from China and ending the export of sensitive military technology.
She said she would not allow China to buy land in the U.S. and would force it to sell land it already owns.
Haley also wants to ban all lobbying from the Chinese Communist Party, as well as prevent former members of Congress and military leaders from lobbying on China’s behalf.
Haley argues the U.S. needs to quickly strengthen its military while deepening military ties with Japan, South Korea and Australia, and create stronger relationships with India and the Philippines.
On Taiwan, Haley said the U.S. and its allies should give it “everything it needs to defend itself” and maintain a strong naval presence in the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. can force China to rethink an invasion of Taiwan by quickly giving Ukraine the weapons and training it needs to fight off Russia’s invasion, she said.
“If we rally now, the Chinese Communist Party will eventually end up on the ash-heap of history, like the Soviet Communist Party,” Haley said.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants the U.S. to take “a totally new approach” to China, which could include tariffs.
Like other candidates, Christie believes the competition the U.S. faces with China is more serious than the threat from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
“I’m not saying that we should isolate China. It’s impossible. They’re the second largest economy in the world. They have billions of people,” Christie told voters in June. “But we have given into their demands of saying, ‘We’re a developing country. We need more advantages.’ Guess what, the development is over. You’re now nearly our equal, if not our equal, in many ways. So you know what? Now we compete with each other on an equal basis.”
He also views Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a proxy war between the U.S. and China, and has said it’s important that the U.S. keep supporting Ukraine to deter China from invading Taiwan.
Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s China policy focuses on reducing U.S. economic dependence on the country.
His plan includes “tough measures to counter China’s unfair trade practices,” protecting intellectual property and investing in American innovation and technological advancements such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence.
He has said U.S. relations with other Asian nations, particularly India, are critical to helping the U.S. “declare independence from our top enemy.”
“We’re cutting the cord unless you drastically reform,” Ramaswamy said of how he plans to confront Chinese President Xi Jinping. “No more IP theft. No more data theft. No more turning our companies into pawns to lobby here as a condition for them being able to do business in China. We’re cutting the cord. You will not buy land in this country if you’re affiliated with the CCP. You will not donate to a university in this country. A U.S. business will not expand into China unless and until the CCP meets our demands or falls.”
Ramaswamy also wants to “drive a wedge” between China and Russia, which would make Xi “think twice” about invading Taiwan if he doesn’t have another nuclear superpower backing him.
“That’s how we deter Chinese aggression without going to war,” he said. “That’s the hallmark of my foreign policy vision.”
Ramaswamy supports arming Taiwan against China.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott views China as an economic adversary that is only becoming stronger.
His plan to confront China if elected president includes reducing the U.S. national debt held by China and prohibiting the Chinese Communist Party from buying farmland in the U.S., donating to American universities, infiltrating U.S. airspace and collecting Americans’ personal data.
He has called China “the biggest threat to America’s security” and has vowed to rebuild the U.S. military.
Scott has declined so far to say how he would respond to a Chinese attack on Taiwan, but he said in June that “we must stand shoulder to shoulder with the Taiwanese government and the military when it comes to defending what we believe is our ally.”
During a speech on China in 2021, former Vice President Mike Pence warned that the Chinese Communist Party poses a greater threat to U.S. interests than the Soviet Union did during the Cold War — not only because of its authoritarian regime, but also because of the extent to which U.S. and Chinese business interests are intertwined.
“Beijing has exploited modern corporate America’s insatiable appetite for market access and coerced top CEOs, athletes and entertainers into not only withholding criticism from the communist regime, but in many cases actively singing their praises,” Pence said.
“Imagine if during the Cold War, the USSR also happened to be America’s top trading partner. Imagine if the United States was dependent on Moscow for life-saving medical equipment or the rare earth minerals essential to modern technology. Imagine your favorite household brands in directly funding Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, building the Berlin Wall or financing the construction of gulags in Siberia,” Pence said, expanding the Cold War comparison.
He proposed a number of policy recommendations in the speech, including putting pressure on China to reveal the origins of COVID-19, banning U.S. labs in China, manufacturing essential pharmaceuticals and medical supplies in the U.S. and decoupling in industries related to national security.
Pence has called China the “greatest economic and strategic threat” to the U.S.
“One of the things I’m proudest of in the Trump-Pence administration is we changed the national consensus on China,” Pence told Iowa voters in March.
Pence has also said China’s ownership of U.S. land needs to be looked at “very carefully” and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States guidance should be updated.
He is in favor of providing Taiwan the resources it needs to defend itself from a Chinese invasion.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s campaign website says he is willing to continue trade partnership with China, “but it must be one that protects American interests and promotes American ideals.”
“For too long, America has been dependent upon China for the stabilization of our economy,” his website says.
He has also said China’s leadership “must know our determination to not allow Taiwan to become another victim of China’s expansion.”
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum thinks the U.S. is already in a Cold War with China “and we won’t admit it.” But the way to win it is economically, he said in a recent interview with “Meet the Press.” He also referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “brutal dictator.”
In an ad listing off his reasons for running for president, Burgum included “rebuild our military to win the Cold War with China.”
Burgum, who started a software company he later sold to Microsoft for $1.1 billion, is the rare candidate who can say he himself was a victim of Chinese intellectual-property theft. He told the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board in July that in 1989, his company, Great Plains, was selling its software system for $5,000 a module exclusively in North America. While he was in China, he said that he was tipped off about a market that sold software. He went to the market “and was told he could buy his own product ‘on a 5¼-inch floppy for $1,'” he told the board.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez views China as the “threat of our generation” in several different contexts, including economic and national security.
“China is not our partner,” he said in his speech announcing his 2024 campaign. “China is now our adversary.”
In June, Suarez flubbed an answer on China’s human rights record, when conservative podcast host Hugh Hewitt asked Suarez if he’d be talking about the Uyghurs in his campaign. “What’s a Uyghur,” Suarez responded. He later said, “I didn’t recognize the pronunciation.”
At the end of the Trump administration, the U.S. determined that Uyghurs, Turkic ethnic Muslim who are native to Xinjiang, China, had been subjected to a “decades-long campaign of repression” subjected to abuses “designed systematically to discriminate against and surveil ethnic Uyghurs as a unique demographic and ethnic group, restrict their freedom to travel, emigrate and attend schools,” according to State Department statement.
Over 1 million Uyghurs are believed to have been held in detention camps in Xinjiang.
Former Texas Rep. Will Hurd has framed the U.S.-China competition as a “generation-defining struggle” that will have global ramifications.
He believes the two “can and should coexist” and that decoupling from China is not realistic. But he also thinks the U.S. should also be preparing for a potential war.
Unlike primary opponents who favor tariffs to protect U.S. companies and even trade imbalances, Hurd aspires to produce more and better products at home.
“Instead of pursuing a 19th century tit-for-tat tariff war, which is a self-imposed sales tax on American consumers, we should be collaborating with our allies to out-innovate China,” he wrote in a 2019 op-ed.