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

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersRestless progressives eye 2024 Key senators to watch on Democrats' social spending bill Five ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan 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 BidenBiden to provide update Monday on US response to omicron variant Restless progressives eye 2024 Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenRestless progressives eye 2024 Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Biden eyes new path for Fed despite Powell pick MORE (D-Mass.) for support in the Democratic primary.

President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' 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