Donald Trump says China 'ripped us off for years', hints at 2024 run for presidency

Former US President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, US, February 28, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

Former US president Donald Trump lashed out at China on his return to the national political stage on Sunday, calling it a “tremendous economic threat” to the United States and criticising the Biden administration for rejoining the World Health Organisation .

He also suggested, without evidence, that President Joe Biden would give concessions to the Chinese government because of his personal interests.

“We believe in standing up to China, shutting down outsourcing, bringing back our factories and supply chains, and ensuring that America, not China, dominates the future of the world,” Trump said, delivering the closing address of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Florida.

“Companies that leave America to create jobs in China and other countries that have ripped us off for years should not be rewarded. They should be tariffed, fined and punished. They should not be rewarded. That’s what the Biden administration is doing.”

The former president did not elaborate, or offer any evidence to support the accusation, although he recycled a conspiracy theory that Biden was beholden to Beijing as a consequence of his son’s former business ventures in China.

Although he stopped short of declaring a 2024 run for re-election, Trump’s 90-minute address closely resembled a campaign speech, parroting many familiar grievances, ranging from immigration and pro-transgender policies to international treaties and [wind turbines].

“With your help we will take back the House, we will win the Senate, and then a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House,” Trump said, before goading the crowd: “I wonder who that will be. Who, who, who will that be?”

“Ultimately, we always win,” said Trump, who used the widely watched platform to falsely claim he was the rightful winner of November’s election.

Of the numerous rounds of booing that Trump elicited from his supporters during his grievance-laden speech, some of the loudest were reserved for the WHO, from which the Trump administration exited over claims of a pro-China bias.

“They really are puppets for China,” Trump said, calling the Biden administration’s decision to rejoin the body a “horrendous surrender”.

And of the cheers from the indoor, largely maskless crowd, some of the loudest came when Trump said of the coronavirus : “As I call it, the China virus.”

Trump’s framing of the new administration as being cosy with Beijing was at odds with a number of indications that Biden does not plan to substantively relax the aggressive stance towards China that has emerged in Washington over the past four years. 

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Addressing senators at her confirmation hearing on Thursday (Feb 25), United States Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai called tariffs a “legitimate tool” to countering China and said that the country must still deliver on the commitments laid out in the phase one trade deal Washington and Beijing signed in January 2020.

The Biden administration has also endorsed a determination made by the Trump state department that China’s treatment of Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups in the country’s far west constitutes “genocide” and “crimes against humanity”.

And this week, Biden announced a 100-day review of US supply chains to shift production of critical technologies away from countries that did not “share our interests”, a move widely seen as targeting China.

Biden’s commerce department also recently signalled that it would move ahead with a China-focused, Trump-era rule that would block certain technology-related business transactions on national security grounds.

Speaking on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation earlier on Sunday (Feb 28) about the administration’s plans to rally a multilateral front to counter China, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was “power in numbers,” and called on other countries to take steps to prevent technology flowing to China that could be used “for the repression of people” there.

Yet despite the hawkish start to the administration’s approach to China, Republicans have continued to amplify the rhetoric of Trump’s re-election campaign claiming that Biden is incapable of holding Beijing to account.

“They’re going to cave to China,” Donald Trump Jnr said at CPAC on Friday (Feb 26).

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Beyond speakers, the conference’s agenda also featured a number of China-focused discussion panels , including one named “China Subverts America” and another called “Corporate America Surrendering to China”.

Trump’s return to the national political stage on Sunday came after weeks out of the spotlight. Banned from posting on all major social media networks, Trump has surfaced only for a handful of television interviews and to issue statements blasting various political opponents, including Congressional Democrats and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

Congressional Republicans were divided as to whether CPAC should have given a stage to the former president, in the wake of his repeated and disproved claims that the November election was stolen from him owing to widespread voter fraud – a conspiracy theory that motivated supporters to violently storm the Capitol on January 6.

“I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party, or the country,” the House’s No 3 Republican, Liz Cheney of Wyoming, told reporters when asked whether Trump should be speaking at CPAC.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.