Claim: President Donald Trump has claimed that “nobody is tougher on China” than he is.
Rating: This claim is FALSE. Trump has created policies that have only increased China’s strength relative to the United States. His trade deals with China have raised the price on Chinese goods in America, decreased the number of goods America exports, and caused the loss of over 300,000 jobs. In addition, his actions with China have led to anti-democratic crackdowns in Vietnam.
In the 2020 presidential election, President Trump has made China a key part of his appeal to voters to re-elect him. He claims that “nobody is tougher on China.” But his records on China tell a different story, one that includes a crack down on human rights in Vietnam:
- It was President Barack Obama, not Trump, who made Asia and the Pacific Region an area of economic focus for the United States.
- Obama established the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal between 12 countries. It promoted Vietnam over China as a key trading partner, as a way to weaken China economically and to draw Vietnam away from China’s influence. Trump unilaterally withdrew from the partnership in 2017.
- In response to America’s TPP withdrawal, the Communist Party of Vietnam started to crack down on pro-democracy and workers’ rights groups. According to Nguyễn Văn Đài, who founded the Brotherhood for Democracy, if the U.S. had stayed in the TPP, “Vietnam would have had to make many commitments about improving human rights, about improving the situation for workers…it would have been a chance to change my country.”
- Meanwhile, other countries crafted a new partnership that does not include the US, effectively limiting America’s influence in Asia. Trump expressed interest in rejoining TPP but representatives from the partnership said it was too late to renegotiate a new deal with the U.S.
- Trump’s trade war with China was ineffective. His goal with the trade negotiations was to increase tariffs on Chinese goods. In retaliation, China refused to buy American goods, sending its business away from American farmers to other countries. By 2019, Trump’s trade war caused the loss of 300,000 American jobs, primarily in farming. And under Trump, the amount of goods that America exports has decreased.
- By raising tariffs on Chinese goods that were hard to replace and in demand, Trump also raised prices for American consumers, costing the average household $2,031 a year.
- Overall, Trump’s negotiations with China has removed $24 billion in business from U.S. farmers with nothing to show for it. Presidential candidate Joe Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, has proposed a plan where the U.S. will join forces with its allies and negotiate a better trade agreement with China.
- Trump has asked China’s President Xi Jinping for election assistance, and in return promised that the U.S. would ignore Chinese human rights abuses and be silent on Hong Kong.
- In 2020, China increased its military presence in the South China Sea in response to threats from Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. As of October 2020, China has commenced military exercises in the waters near Vietnam. By contrast, during a similar situation in 2016, China backed down after pressure from President Obama and Secretary John Kerry.
Conclusion: When President Obama took office, one of his priorities was to refocus on Asia because he felt it was neglected by previous administrations. A primary goal of this focus was to limit China’s ability to harm the United States or its allies. He announced his administration’s goals in Hanoi in 2010, along with announcement of support for free passage in the South China Sea, which China rejected. The Chinese were so upset by this announcement that their Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, left the room for an hour to coordinate Beijing’s response.
In contrast, when President Trump stepped into the office, he backed out of Obama’s TPP, replacing it with failed trade deals with China that have raised the price on Chinese goods in America, decreased America’s exports, and caused the loss of over 300,000 jobs. His actions have also set back democracy, freedom of speech, and workers’ rights in Vietnam. Consequently, Trump’s claim that he has been tough on China is FALSE.