China at the Democratic Party debates

Domestic News

Where do the Democratic candidates for U.S. president stand on China? We launched our 2020 Presidential Election China Tracker last week, and have already updated it with all the China comments from the Democratic Party debates on June 26 and June 27. Below are all the China-related comments from the debates:


The moderators asked each candidate about the “greatest geopolitical threat to the United States right now,” and 4 of the 10 candidates took the opportunity to put the label on China — with some qualifications.

Tom Delaney: “The greatest geopolitical challenge is China, while the greatest geopolitical threat remains nuclear weapons.”

Amy Klobuchar: “Two threats: Economic threat, China, but our major threat right now is what’s going on in the Middle East with Iran.”

Julian Castro: “China and climate change.”

Tim Ryan, who earlier in the debate recalled having “family members that had to unbolt a machine from the factory floor, put it in a box, and ship it to China,” answered the question unequivocally: “China without a question. They’re wiping us around the world economically.”


The moderators picked up where they left off on China, citing the previous night’s “geopolitical threat” question to ask several candidates how they would stand up to Beijing.

Michael Bennett: “I think the biggest factor in national security is Russia, not China… We should mobilize the entire rest of the world who all have a shared interest in pushing back on China’s mercantilist trade policies.”

Andrew Yang: “Russia is our greatest geopolitical threat, because they have been hacking our democracy successfully… Now China, they do pirate our intellectual property, it’s a massive problem, but the tariffs and the trade war are just punishing businesses and producers and workers on both sides. So we need to crack down on Chinese malfeasance in the trade relationship. But the tariffs and the trade war are the wrong way to go… We need to cooperate with them on climate change, AI, and other issues [like] North Korea.”

John Hickenlooper: “[If] we are going to deal with all of the challenges of the globe, we’ve got to have relationships with everyone.”

Pete Buttigieg, responding to the question “How would you stand up to China?”:

I mean, first of all, we’ve got to recognize that the China challenge really is a serious one. This is not something to dismiss or wave away. And if you look at what China is doing, they’re using technology for the perfection of dictatorship.

But their fundamental economic model isn’t going to change because of some tariffs. I live in the industrial Midwest. Folks who aren’t in the shadow of a factory are somewhere near a soy field where I live. And manufacturers, and especially soy farmers, are hurting.

Tariffs are taxes. And Americans are going to pay on average $800 more a year because of these tariffs. Meanwhile, China is investing so that they could soon be able to run circles around us in artificial intelligence. And this president is fixated on the China relationship as if all that mattered was the export balance on dishwashers. We’ve got a much bigger issue on our hands.

But at a moment when their authoritarian model is being held up as an alternative to ours because ours looks so chaotic compared to theirs right now because of our internal divisions, the biggest thing we’ve got to do is invest in our own domestic competitiveness. If we disinvest in our own infrastructure, education, we are never going to be able to compete. And if we really want to be an alternative, a democratic alternative, we actually have to demonstrate that we care about democratic values at home and around the world.