Here at our CUSEF blog, we share news, updates and stories about China and the United States. We provide more than a cursory glimpse of what’s going on between the two powers - here, we offer an in-depth look into their current state of affairs.

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2020 Presidential Candidates on Trade: Where Do They Stand?

Democratic candidates gather for a televised debate. Photo Credit:
Democratic candidates gather for a televised debate. Photo Credit:

The trade war between China and the U.S. has seen many ebbs and flows, with the U.S. recently hitting China with new wave of tariffs. But where do the presidential candidates stand on trade?

Despite condemning U.S. President Donald Trump’s tit-for-tat tariff policy with China for its adverse effects on farmers, consumers and businesses, the candidates have not painted a clear picture of what they would do instead. Several are even relatively sympathetic to this administration’s foreign policies, but none have declared that they would lift the tariffs immediately.

Moderate candidates, including Senator Amy Klobuchar, signaled that they would be more open to negotiations with the Chinese government. Klobuchar specifically asserted that the U.S. “needs to go back to the negotiating table;” arguing that Trump has treated the futures of American farmers and manufacturing workers like “poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (Photo credit:

Former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro stated that he would “immediately begin to negotiate with China to ratchet down that trade war” since the U.S. “has leverage”. Yet he did not give any details about how he would bring the Chinese to the table or what leverage he was specifically referring to.

Progressive candidates have characterized the present tariffs as assets in the American foreign policy toolkit when it comes to China, with Senator Bernie Sanders describing the tariffs as a “valuable weapon to bring China to its heels.” Senator Elizabeth Warren said she would use tariffs as a part of a broader strategy to discourage China from manipulating its currency. However, she emphasized that she would not support any trade deal with a nation that does not meet specific environmental, labor and human rights criteria. Senator Warren, clinging to her consumer-focused roots, also said she would greatly reduce the influence of corporations in future trade negotiations.

Other candidates like entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Mayor Pete Buttigieg have criticized Trump for the consequences of his trade war, emphasizing its adverse effects on American farmers and foreign alliances. While Yang stated that as president, he would not repeal the tariffs immediately, Buttigieg emphasized that his administration would use the tariffs to maintain pressure on Chinese president Xi Jinping’s regime, despite his equal acknowledgement that some tariffs alone will not make China change their economic model.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang (Photo credit:

Meanwhile, Senator Kamala Harris expressed her intention to hold China accountable for its unfair trade practices, particularly intellectual property theft.

Intellectual property is an issue strongly accentuated by former U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden. To curb China’s anti-competitive practices, Biden vowed to restore relationships with key U.S. allies and encourage them to also put pressure on China. However, he did not expressly say whether he would lift all of Trump’s tariffs.

Only former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke stated that he would lift all tariffs, but would also demand that China stop unfair trade practices and make it a priority of his administration to lead a global effort to curb China’s anti-competitive behavior.

Not unlike their peers on the opposite end of the political spectrum, Republican candidates former Senator Mark Sanford and former Representative Joe Walsh expressed their opposition to the trade war with China. They argue that the bruising tension between the two countries undermines America’s standing in the world and devastates American farmers, and emphasized their support for the maintenance of a free trade regime.

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