Sanders: China has done more to address extreme poverty 'than any country in the history of civilization'

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight MORE (I-Vt.) offered praise for China while stating in an interview that he believed the U.S. could have a positive relationship with the country, saying it had made "more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization." 

The Democratic presidential candidate offered a nuanced view of Beijing, criticizing it for a move toward authoritarianism and stating that it looked out for its own interests first, but also saying it had made progress in helping its own people over the last several decades.

"China is a country that is moving unfortunately in a more authoritarian way in a number of directions,” Sanders told Hill.TV’s Krystal Ball. "But what we have to say about China in fairness to China and it’s leadership is if I’m not mistaken they have made more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization, so they’ve done a lot of things for their people.”

Sanders said the the United States would have "hoped that they would move toward a more Democratic form of government," and criticized China for "moving in the opposite direction." 

Beijing has come under criticism recently for battles between police and demonstrators in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong.

At the same time, Sanders said he did not believe China represented an "existential threat" to the United States. 

"Their economy now is struggling but I think it is absolutely possible for us to have a positive working relationship with China," said Sanders, who has been battling with former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare? Romney warns Trump: Don't interfere with coronavirus relief oversight MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill Democratic senators want probe into change of national stockpile description Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE (D-Mass.) for support in the Democratic primary.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE has imposed steep tariffs on Chinese imports and has threatened to impose more. Beijing has responded with its own tariffs on U.S. exports. The trade war has deepened worries about the global economy, while triggering gyrations in U.S. and foreign markets.

Sanders once again emphasized his stance against “unfettered free trade,” and his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he says treats U.S. companies unfairly. 

“What I said then and what I said now is trade is extremely important but you cannot have unfettered free trade written by large corporations and their CEOs, you need trade agreements that are designed to work for working families,” he told Hill.TV.

Sanders has stated that even though he doesn't agree with Trump's approach to China, he also that he wouldn't rule out using tariffs if he became president. He told CNN's "State of the Union" over the weekend that they should only be used in a "rational way within the context of a broad, sensible trade policy."

—Tess Bonn