Anti-China Rhetoric Escalates on the GOP Campaign Trail, With Increasing Calls for a Shift in Trade Relations

The increasingly harsh rhetoric comes as more and more evidence suggests the Chinese have been seeking to gain an edge over America via subterfuge and espionage.

AP/Charles Krupa
Governor DeSantis shakes hands during a campaign event, July 31, 2023, at Rochester, New Hampshire. AP/Charles Krupa

American foreign policy vis-a-vis Communist China is emerging as a key talking point on the Republican presidential campaign trail, with candidates calling for a major reassessment of relations with the Communist government at Beijing that would have profound effects on global supply chains and international trade as they now exist if some of the proposals were enacted.

Both Governor DeSantis and Ambassador Nikki Haley suggested Monday that it was time to reconsider China’s “most favored nation” trade status and take more aggressive measures to deter what they said was increasing evidence of mainland China’s attempts to infiltrate both civilian and military institutions in order to gain the upper hand on the world stage.

With China a most-favored nation and a full member of the World Trade Organization for more than two decades now, America is required to treat Beijing as it does any other member of the organization when it comes to imposing tariffs on imports from the mainland. Any change in that status would require American companies to radically rethink where they source the goods and raw materials that make the American economy hum.

In a speech Monday billed as a “Declaration of Economic Independence,” Mr. DeSantis called for an end to that preferential trade status for China. Describing himself as potentially a “new sheriff in town,” he also pledged to ban the imports of Chinese goods made with stolen intellectual property and to prevent companies from sharing critical technologies with Beijing.

“They said if you granted China special trading status and put them in the World Trade Organization, that China would become more democratic,” Mr. DeSantis told a group of supporters at New Hampshire. “What actually happened over these past 25 years, China has become more authoritarian, more powerful … and we’ve seen our relationship marred by the theft of our intellectual property, trade dumping, currency manipulation and espionage.”

Ms. Haley’s campaign on Monday also waded into the China fray, releasing a revised and expanded roadmap toward a “de-coupling” of the Chinese and American economies that she initially proposed in June. Her latest proposal calls for, among other things, ending the costly electric vehicle and other green energy mandates imposed by the Biden administration, which many critics have said primarily benefit the Chinese companies that dominate such industries. She also wants to ban state and local governments from using American taxpayers’ dollars to purchase Chinese technology and to extricate America from a Scientific and Technological Agreement with China that dates back to 1979.

China is “our no. 1 biggest national security threat,” Ms. Haley said during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “We need to be strong with China. They’re running all over us. We’re waiting to deal with China tomorrow while they’re dealing with America today.”

Many of the proposals regarding China being teed up by the current crop of presidential contenders mirror those taken by President Trump during his first term in office. An avowed China hawk, Mr. Trump began his tenure by starting a trade war with Beijing and imposing billions of dollars in new tariffs on Chinese goods. He followed with what was dubbed his “China Initiative” to crack down on economic espionage by the Chinese. His tone has not changed since then.

The increasingly harsh rhetoric comes as more and more evidence suggests the Chinese have been seeking to gain an edge over America via subterfuge and espionage.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that Biden administration officials are scrambling to root out what appears to be Chinese-made malware buried deep in the networks that control communications systems and power grids that service American military facilities around the globe. One congressional official described the malware as a “ticking time bomb” that has the potential to hobble American forces in the event of a military conflict between the two countries.

America is not the only target. Over the weekend, Germany’s counterintelligence service warned public officials that China has been ramping up its spying on the Continent. China has “built up a worldwide network of contacts and is constantly striving to expand it,” the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution said in a notice published over the weekend.


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