Nikki Haley says Trump lacked ‘moral clarity’ in dealings with China’s Xi

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Nikki Haley, a Republican presidential contender and a former South Carolina governor, has criticised Donald Trump for being weak on China and showing “moral weakness” in his dealings with President Xi Jinping.

Haley, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the UN, said the former president had been “almost singularly focused” on US-China trade relations and neglected other critical areas such as security and foreign policy.

“He did not put us on a stronger military foothold in Asia. He did not stop the flow of American technology and investment into the Chinese military. He did not effectively rally our allies against the Chinese threat,” Haley said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute think-tank in Washington.

Haley, one of more than a dozen Republican presidential hopefuls, said the former president had also lacked “moral clarity” in his interactions with Xi.

“He also showed moral weakness in his zeal to befriend President Xi. Trump congratulated the Communist party on its 70th anniversary of conquering China. That sent a wrong message to the world.”

Trump launched a trade war with China in his second year in office. But he did not adopt harsher policies in areas such as security until his final year when he blamed China for the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Haley credited Trump with creating a bipartisan consensus about what lawmakers view as the threat from China, “Even the trade deal he signed came up short when China predictably failed to live up to its commitments,” she said.

Haley also slammed the Biden administration, which she said was ignoring the threat from China. In the wake of secretary of state Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing, she said communication was important but that the Biden team was “running scared from China” and engaging more in appeasement.

“Blinken’s visit last week was a gold-plated invitation for more Chinese aggression,” Haley said.

Most of the Republican presidential candidates are expected to take a hard line on China, but Haley is the first to deliver a specific speech on the issue.

On Taiwan, she said the US should do more to boost deterrence to increase the potential cost to China of attacking the island, including by warning that Washington would respond with a “full-blown economic coupling”.

Asked by the Financial Times if she agreed with Biden, who has warned China he would order the military to defend Taiwan from an unprovoked attack, Haley suggested the president was sending the wrong message.

“We need to let them know we’re going to defend Taiwan by sending equipment, ammunition and doing the training now. There’s no bigger message that we could send to China than to strengthen Taiwan and work with our allies to make sure they do that.”

Haley also criticised US allies in Europe, saying they were “even further behind” the US in recognising that China posed a threat. “It’s time to shake them from their slumber.”

Haley said the US should put more pressure on China over issues such as fentanyl. Washington has accused China of allowing its companies to export chemicals used to make the drug to Mexico to produce fentanyl.

If elected, Haley said she would remove the “permanent normal trade relations” status that allows China to conduct free trade with the US. Such a threat could be used as leverage over other issues, including to remove an alleged electronic surveillance post in Cuba, she added.

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