In the second night of debate, Democratic presidential candidates slammed President Trump’s trade policies — as Trump prepares to meet with China’s Xi Jinping, in an effort to get trade talks back on track.
Moderators asked Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN) how they would stand up against China if they won the presidency.
‘Mobilize the entire world’
Bennet said the president was right to push back on China, but he’s doing it in the wrong way.
“We should mobilize the entire rest of the world, who all have a shared interest in pushing back on China's mercantilist trade policies, and I think we can do that,” said Bennet.
Tariffs are ‘the wrong way to go’
“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,” said entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Yang acknowledged China’s theft of intellectual property is a “massive problem,” but said tariffs are punishing businesses, producers and workers in both the United States and in China.
“The beneficiaries have not been American workers or people in China — it’s been Southeast Asia and other producers who have stepped in the void,” said Yang.
Yang did not elaborate on how he’d address trade issues with China if he were president.
Later he said his first foreign call would be to China, to work on climate change, North Korea and artificial intelligence.
‘Invest in our own domestic competitiveness’
Mayor Pete Buttigieg leads South Bend, Ind., an industrial Midwest city where farmers and manufacturers are feeling the impact of the trade war with China.
“Tariffs are taxes,” he said.
Buttigieg argued while Trump is focused on the trade balance between the two countries, China is preparing for the future.
“China is investing, so they can soon be able to run circles around us in artificial intelligence. And this president is fixating on the China relationship as if all that matters was the export balance on dishwashers,” said Buttigieg.
The mayor argued Trump’s trade policy looks “chaotic” and his strategy is not working.
“They’re using technology for the perfection of dictatorship —but their fundamental economic model is not going to change because of some tariffs,” said Buttigieg. “The biggest thing we’ve got to do is invest in our own domestic competitiveness.”
Buttigieg said without investing in its own infrastructure and education, the U.S. will never be able to compete with China.
“If we really want to be an alternative — a democratic alternative [to China]— we have to demonstrate that we care about democratic values at home and around the world,” he said.
Though he wasn't asked about trade, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said the first foreign relationship his administration would try to “reset” is the United States' relationship with China.
“I understand they’ve been cheating and stealing intellectual property,” said Hickenlooper. “If we’re going to deal with all the challenges of the globe we’ve got to have relationships with everyone.”
Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.