Foreign Policy Debate: Where the 2016 GOP Candidates Stand on China, Egypt, and Russia | Freedom House

Foreign Policy Debate: Where the 2016 GOP Candidates Stand on China, Egypt, and Russia

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On the eve of the September 16 debate, Freedom House presents a selection of quotes from some of the more prominent Republican presidential candidates on three strategically important authoritarian states.

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush. Photo by John Pemble.>

  • “We also have to have an ongoing, deep relationship with China.… We have to stay engaged.… It’s so easy to create misunderstandings that we could easily go from being a competitor economically to being challenged in terms of security.”


  • “We’ve managed to, I think, hurt a relationship that has been part of a reason why we’ve had security in the region. It’s not the most secure part of the world, but certainly Egypt has played a constructive role in that regard, and now they are striving to do the same.”
  • Bush believes President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who took power after a coup, “should be rewarded” for standing up to Islamist extremism. Such a policy would help the United States “have influence and a relationship with the government,” and once you have that, Bush said, “you can also express the desires of other elements of our foreign policy.”


  • “Ukraine is an important country in a lot of ways, and to ignore their requests for defensive military support when they’re being invaded … just seems feckless.”
  • In a radio interview, Bush said that to counter Putin’s threats against the Baltic states, Obama should consider invoking Article 5 of the NATO treaty, under which an attack on one ally is considered an attack on all. “I think there needs to be clarity in Moscow that we’re serious about protecting the one alliance that has created enormous amounts of security and peace in the post–World War II time,” he said, adding, “If we’re not serious about Article 5, then we ought to have shut down NATO. And I think shutting down NATO would be a disaster.”
  • “I don’t think we want to isolate Russia to the point where we push them into the arms of China. I don’t think that’s necessary at all.”

Carly Fiorina

  • “The Chinese people have tolerated repression, corruption, pollution, and sub-standard safety in return for economic growth and an escape from poverty. And we have been an important engine of that growth. This gives us real leverage. We have the ability to impact their economy and change their calculation.”
  • “The Chinese, like the Iranians and the Russians, engage in draconian internet censorship. As Reagan once tore down a physical wall, we must tear down these cyber-barriers to the free exchange of information.”
  • “During her first trip to Asia as Secretary in February 2009, [Clinton] told us we couldn’t let human rights get in the way of our other goals. China responded. They cracked down on American companies, charitable organizations and free speech. They have thrown Noble Peace Prize winners in jail. Trafficking and domestic violence continue. Forced abortions and death by exposure have ended the lives of countless millions and millions of female infants.”


  • “In order to defeat ISIS, we must be willing to call it what it is: Islamic extremism. When 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded on the beaches of Egypt, it was the President of Egypt, President Al-Sisi—a very brave and pious Muslim—who went into Cairo to visit with the most powerful imams and told them that Islam was in need of a religious revolution.”


  • “I will not call Vladimir Putin. We have talked way too much to him. But he too will get the message. We must rebuild our Sixth Fleet. We must conduct military exercises in the Baltic States. President Obama unilaterally and inexplicably withdrew our missile defense programs in Poland—I will rebuild them.”

Marco Rubio


  • “I think most Americans would agree that it is morally unjustifiable to simply ‘manage’ our differences when those differences include the continued unjust imprisonment of thousands of men and women who dare to peacefully dissent or worship according to the dictates of their conscience.”
  • “To achieve a new era of productive relations between our nations, America must stand on the side of the Chinese people rather than their autocratic rulers.
  • “Under my presidency, Beijing will not receive a free pass on human rights. I will instruct all U.S. officials meeting with their Chinese counterparts to demand the unconditional release of political prisoners. I will impose visa bans on Chinese officials who violate human rights. I will do all I can to empower Chinese citizens to breach what has been called the Great Firewall of China, and gain accurate news and information online about their country and the world.


  • Rubio, along with six other senators, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to highlight political reform and human rights during the U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue in August 2015. “A key element of U.S. foreign policy has always been and must continue to be support for human rights, political reform, and civil society. In the U.S.-Egypt relationship, we are concerned that these core principles seem to be no longer a priority.”
  • In 2013, Rubio sponsored an amendment to block economic and military aid to Egypt if reforms were not undertaken, and until the Obama administration certified that Egypt was protecting basic freedoms and human rights.  “The adaptation process must begin with how our money is being spent and conditioning our assistance on Egypt’s adoption of economic reforms and a serious effort to protect the rights of religious minorities, women, a free press and the ability of Egyptian and foreign NGOs to promote civil society, governance and democracy.”


  • Russia is governed today by a gangster. He’s basically an organized crime figure who controls a government and a large territory.… This is a person who kills people because they’re his political enemies. If you’re a political adversary of Vladimir Putin, you wind up with plutonium in your drink or shot in the street.”

Donald Trump


  • “Not only now have they taken our jobs and they’ve taken our base and they’ve taken our manufacturing, but now they’re pulling us down with them.… We have to do a big uncoupling pretty soon before it’s too late.”
  • On Xi Jinping’s upcoming state visit, “I would not be throwing him a dinner. I’d get him a McDonald’s hamburger and I’d say we gotta get down to work, because you can’t continue to devalue [the Chinese currency].”


  • “Putin has no respect for our president whatsoever. He’s got a tremendous popularity in Russia, they love what he’s doing, they love what he represents.… I was over in Moscow two years ago and I will tell you—you can get along with those people and get along with them well. You can make deals with those people. Obama can’t.… I would have a great relationship with Putin.”
  • “I don’t like what’s happening in Ukraine. But that’s really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us.… I wouldn’t care. If [Ukraine] goes in [to NATO], great; if it doesn’t go in, great.

Scott Walker


  • “Given China’s massive cyberattacks against America, its militarization of the South China Sea, continued interference with its economy, and persistent persecution of Christians and human rights activists, President Obama needs to cancel [Xi Jinping’s] state visit.”
  • “Secretary Clinton and President Obama have seriously downplayed the Chinese government’s human rights violations. On her first trip to China as Secretary of State, Clinton said human rights ‘can’t interfere’ with other aspects of the bilateral relationship, signaling to Beijing that America would essentially turn a blind eye as the Chinese government repressed groups including ethnic minorities and China’s 100 million Christians.”


  • “Under Obama/Clinton, we found a lot of mush over the last few years. We need to have a national security that puts steel in front of our enemies. I would send weapons to Ukraine. I would work with NATO to put forces on the eastern border of Poland and in the Baltic nations. I would reinstate and put back in place the missile defense system that we had in Poland and the Czech Republic.”

Photo credits: Photos of Fiorina, Rubio and Trump are courtesy of Gage Skidmore. Photo of Scott Walker courtesy of Gateway Technical College, Flickr/Creative Commons). 

Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.

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