China Policy Profile: Vice Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris

This page was updated on August 12, 2020.

On August 11th, 2020 the Biden campaign announced that Kamala Harris would serve as Biden’s running mate in the 2020 presidential campaign. Kamala Harris previously served as the 27th District Attorney of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011 and the 32nd Attorney General of California from 2011 to 2017. As of 2017, Harris serves as a Democratic senator for the state of California.

Harris is a steadfast proponent of global human rights and democracy. In response to the steady erosion of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, Harris cosponsored the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. Responding to recent revelations that China is taking extreme measures to reduce birthrates among Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, she and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote a letter to the Trump administration urging action. Harris stated, “The reports of persecution of Uyghur and other minority women in western China are unconscionable. We cannot be silent. The United States must speak out against these human rights abuses and demand accountability and justice. Secretary Pompeo must answer for what the United States is doing to end this genocidal campaign and suffering.”

During Harris’ own presidential campaign, she also criticized China’s “abysmal human rights record” in a 2019 interview with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), stating that human rights must “feature prominently in our policy toward the country.”

Harris realizes the complexity of the U.S.-China relationship. In her interview with CFR, Harris expressed the desire to “cooperate with China on global issues like climate change.” In the 3rd Democratic Debate last September, she expressed the need to “hold China accountable” without abandoning the potential for bilateral relations. Harris stated: “They steal our products, including our intellectual property. They dump substandard products into our economy. They need to be held accountable. We also need to partner with China on climate and the crisis that that presents. We need to partner with China on the issue of North Korea.”

Harris is critical of the Trump administration’s trade war against China and has identified herself as “not a protectionist Democrat.” In August of 2018, Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris sent a letter to Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, criticizing the administration’s escalating tariffs on China. While Feinstein and Harris agreed “with the findings of [Lighthizer’s] office’s recent investigation into China’s unfair industrial policies and outright theft of American intellectual property,” the two expressed concern that the trade war was “counterproductive to its goal of ensuring a level playing field for American companies.”

Listing the impacts of the trade war, such as its damage to global supply chains, small businesses, and domestic manufacturing, the two “urge[d] the Administration to rethink its escalating tariffs and instead urgently convene negotiations with China on its discriminatory industrial policies and intellectual property practices.” As identified by a 2019 article in The Atlantic, Harris’ campaign website previously stated that the United States should cooperate with allies to address these issues. This aligns with Biden’s proposed “united front” of allies to address the challenge posed by China.

Since the Biden campaign’s announcement, the state-run Chinese outlet Global Times has criticized Harris, stating that her selection “will likely escalate the ‘who-is-the-toughest-on-China competition’ between the ‘donkey and elephant’ in the 2020 US presidential race.” In an editorial released the following morning, the Global Times also attacked the Democratic Party for embracing “vixen culture,” sexist language which appears to allude to Harris.