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

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIntercept bureau chief says congressional progressives looking to become stronger force in 2021 Obama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Americans have a choice: Socialized medicine or health care freedom 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 BidenGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska Jeff Daniels narrates new Biden campaign ad for Michigan MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger Conservative operatives Wohl, Burkman charged in Ohio over false robocalls Senate Democrats want hearing on Pentagon vaccine effort MORE (D-Mass.) for support in the Democratic primary.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven 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