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Where Trump and Biden stand on dealing with China

Where do President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden stand on dealing with China? The Trump administration calls itself tough on Beijing, but Trump has praised Xi Jinping on a personal level. Biden believes the U.S. and China benefit from economic cooperation. Nick Schifrin talks to the Hudson Institute's Michael Pillsbury and Christopher Hill, a former assistant secretary of state.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    When President Trump and Joe Biden face off in their last debate tomorrow night, one topic that may be on the agenda is China.

    To explore where the candidates stand on dealing with Beijing, here's Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As candidate:

  • President Donald Trump:

    We can't continue to allow China to rape our country.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And president:

  • President Donald Trump:

    No administration has been tougher on China than this administration.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    President Trump's made confronting China one of his administration's signature policies.

  • Secretary Mike Pompeo:

    The Chinese Communist Party presents the central threat of our times.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today's China is more assertive globally. Its military is modernizing, and claims almost all of the South China Sea, flouting international law.

    Beijing sells technology the U.S. says helps China spy and builds billions of dollars of infrastructure around the world that also builds influence with other countries.

    In Hong Kong, after more than a year of protests, Beijing ended much of the city's British era rule of law and, in Xinjiang, detained more than a million Muslim Uyghurs. Chinese diplomats make no apologies, and criticize their critics.

  • Zhao¬†Lijian¬†(through translator):

    The whole world has watched as things unravel in the U.S. American politicians had better get their own house in order.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Trump administration has exposed Chinese espionage, closing China's oldest consulate in the U.S., and charged Chinese hackers and Chinese military officers.

    The administration sanctioned officials involved in Uyghur detention and targeted Chinese technology giants.

    While the administration confronts China, President Trump has personally praised China's leader, Xi Jinping.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I call him king. He said: "But I am not king. I am president."

    I said: "No, you are president for life, and therefore, you're king."

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And rejected more aggressive policies to protect a phase one trade deal.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We have a great relationship with China.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As the election approached, he called out China as the source of COVID.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I call it the plague from China, the plague.


  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Biden campaign accuses Trump of trade policies that have hurt U.S. farmers and for not emphasizing human rights enough or working with allies.

    Biden himself, as senator and vice president, long reflected a mainstream consensus: The U.S. and China benefit from economic cooperation.

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    I believed, in 1979, and said so, and I believe now that a rising China is a positive development.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    By the end of the Obama administration, he added a but.

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    But, even as we talk about cooperation, there will be areas of competition.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As presidential candidate, he criticizes Beijing, but has said China's internal problems will keep the U.S. ahead.

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    They're not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They're not competition — they're not competition for us.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    China's remained a top campaign foreign policy issue. And both candidates released videos accusing the other one of being weak on China.

    So, now we turn to a debate over China policy.

    Michael Pillsbury advises the Trump administration on China policy and directs the Center for China Strategy at the Hudson Institute. And Christopher Hill had a 30-year career as a diplomat and served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. He supports Joe Biden.

    We asked the Biden campaign to participate in this segment, but they declined.

    Welcome to you both to the "NewsHour."

    Michael Pillsbury, let me start with you with the overall question.

    Has President Trump's policy toward China advanced U.S. interests?

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    Well, of course it has.

    He focused initially on economic security. He said he was going to increase the number of American jobs, cut back fentanyl imports. He had quite a long agenda for China that came out of the campaign. And I think he just delivered on those campaign promises. That was the main Trump strategy kind of effectiveness.

    So, he's had a pragmatic policy. He's had a lot of success.

    And, frankly, what I see Joe Biden doing now is saying, me, too. He wants to sort of be like Trump. He wishes he'd been tougher years ago.

    One very sad thing, though, is, when Vice President Biden in February of this year used the word thug to talk about Xi Jinping. This is not the way a statesman should behave. And President Biden, if he wins the election, is going to have to back down and apologize to Xi Jinping for calling him a thug if he wants to make any progress, it seems to me.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Hill, we're going to get to some of those criticisms of Biden, but I want you to answer that first question as well.

    Has President Trump's policy toward China advanced U.S. interests?

  • Christopher Hill:

    I don't think it has.

    Certainly, there are huge problems in the China relationship, not the least of which is that the concerns about China are shared by a vast majority of the American people right now. But the question is, what are you going to do about them?

    And, so far, I see a lot of sort of dueling press conferences, but very little effort to sit down and resolve problems.

    I think, in foreign affairs, you always have to look at where you're going with something, and what — what are we going to do next? And I don't see a strategy there. This is a quite typical thing with the Trump administration. There's a lot of noise, sound and light, and there's no strategy.

    So, I want to know where this is going, and, frankly speaking, is this a country, with China, that we really should be living in enmity with? And I think we need to be very careful how we proceed, and keep in mind what our objectives should be.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Michael Pillsbury, you just heard Ambassador Hill just say that the Trump administration has no strategy.

    Let's go through some of what the Trump administration has done. But let's start with trade.

    The Biden campaign has accused the administration of pursuing trade policies that have hurt farmers and that haven't actually improved Chinese behavior.

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    Well, I saw an interview that Senator Biden gave. I used to know him when he was a senator. Sorry.

    But he said he would keep all the tariffs, except for a few of the agricultural tariffs. So, this is what I mean about me-too-ism from Joe Biden, that he supports the framework of the phase one trade deal. He's praised it. He has not yet endorsed what other Democrats are doing on the Foreign Relations Committee, Finance Committee.

    All the ranking Democrats have endorsed a $350 billion sort of strategic plan for dealing with China over the next 10 years. And, Nick, the plan is very similar to what the strategy of the Trump administration has been.

    So, it's a comment, as everybody likes to say someone else doesn't have a strategy. But what President Trump does have is a 95-page detailed trade deal that's working. The Chinese are making the purchases they promised. They have cut back on intellectual theft.

    So it's a real success, I see, from the Trump administration's strategy toward China. It's quite sophisticated, actually, Chris.


  • Christopher Hill:

    This is not the first time in human history where one country has asked the other country to make more purchases, and the other country has made some more purchases.

    And, now, certainly, we have a situation where the secretary of state, when he isn't calling the Chinese names or where he isn't sort of implying that what we need is the end of the Chinese Communist Party, he's certainly not meeting with his Chinese counterparts. He hasn't been to Beijing for some two years.

    This is not the kind of relationship we should be having with a country that, to be sure, to be sure, it's been a — it's a relationship characterized by a lot of competition over the years, but also a lot of cooperation.

    And we're not kind of seeing any rhythms of cooperation happening. We're not really seeing the U.S. and China find any kind of common ground.

    I have no problem with going after China on issues of IPR. And I support a lot of this, and, which, by the way, didn't begin with Donald Trump, but I support a lot of this tough trade policy.

    My concern, however, is, what are we going to do with this massive country out there that is not going away and will not be ignored?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador, I want to switch to human rights.

    The Trump administration has sanctioned Chinese officials and businesses involved in the Uyghur crackdown, as well as in the Hong Kong crackdown. What's wrong with that, do you think?

  • Christopher Hill:

    It is absolutely essential for the U.S. to stand up for international rights, for human rights.

    Where I really feel that there is a lot of scope for doing more is to work with other allies. But, as it turns out, of late, we don't have other allies. We don't have a president who's willing to work with like-minded countries.

    And the second thing is, in addition to not working with the other allies, we're not reinforcing a rules-based order. We're not reinforcing international trade, the International Trade Organization. We're not doing much to reinforce rules out there.

    We're saying, hey, we are as tough as you, China, and we can compel you to do what we want.

    In fact, what we want to do is shape the environment in which China makes its decision. We are not going to change China, anymore than China is going to change us. But we have tremendous scope for making a world in which China has to perform and behave in a certain way. And that is where we have been utterly derelict in recent years.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And, Michael Pillsbury, quickly, just respond to that criticism from Ambassador Hill and from others that, while the Trump administration has worked with allies in Asia, European allies feel like the Trump administration has gone it alone when it comes to China.

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    No, I think it's not true.

    I think the president has spent a lot of time and effort with allies and partners, in particular, Japan, organizing the Quad, with the Australians and Indians recently. There's been a lot of progress in — with the European Union and especially Germany with investment review.

    So, I know this is a common criticism. The president asks for the allies to do more, but he also works with him more himself. And I agree, shaping China's behavior in the international rules-based order is extremely important.

    But the president has said that himself, and so have many members of his administration. So, I think what you have, Nick and Ambassador Hill, is kind of a carrot-and-stick approach that is working with China.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Christopher Hill, Michael Pillsbury, thank you very much to you both.

  • Christopher Hill:


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