China is the “number one national security threat” facing the United States, Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley said Monday.
And, she added, a partnership between China and Russia is “an axis of evil.”
The South Carolina native spoke to a capacity crowd at a campaign event Monday afternoon at the CrossRidge Center in Indian Land. A former governor of the Palmetto State, Haley made headlines last week for her performance in the first Republican presidential debate, where she clashed with fellow candidate Vivek Ramaswamy over his lack of foreign policy experience.
“China has been planning war with America for years, and that’s not being dramatic,” she said Monday.
In 2002, then-President George W. Bush used “axis of evil” to refer to another set of nations — Korea, Iran and Iraq — as the United States began its “War on Terror.” Politico reported in 2019 the phrase became a hallmark of his administration’s foreign policy.
Haley told the crowd she believes past Democratic and Republican presidents falsely believed “if we were nice to China they’d want to be like us.”
“China’s never wanted to be like us,” she continued. “They want to be communist, and we have to change the way we deal with them.”
She went on to accuse China of “infiltrating millions of dollars into our universities, stealing our research and spreading Chinese propaganda.” Haley also said China now has the biggest naval fleet in the world, a statistic some military experts say is somewhat misleading because of the small size of many Chinese ships.
She said China has surpassed the U.S. in military research and development, including in “weapons that are engineered to change brain activity of military leaders.” The U.S. sanctioned some Chinese entities for their involvement in biotechnology that includes “purported brain-control weaponry” in 2021, Business Insider reported previously.
Haley said she’s particularly concerned about leaders in China and Russia aligning their countries in the context of Russia’s Ukraine invasion.
“China said Taiwan was next. We better believe them. Russia said after Ukraine comes Poland and the Baltics, and that is a world war,” she said. “We have to always remember a win for Russia is a win for China. And we can never let that axis of evil gather any more momentum.”
Haley took questions from the audience at the event but not members of the media.
Haley’s return to SC
Haley left South Carolina midway through her second term as governor in 2017 to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
She’s been polling in the single digits nationally, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average. Recent South Carolina polls have her polling at or about 10% in her home state — behind former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. She’s posted similar numbers in North Carolina.
In Indian Land on Monday, she touched on a number of Republican talking points.
On education, Haley said there should be “full transparency” in schools for parents to know what’s being said in their kids’ classrooms and that she believes transgender student athletes shouldn’t be allowed to use the locker room for the gender they identify with.
A bill dubbed the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” recently went into effect in North Carolina over the veto of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, limiting instruction on LGBTQ+ issues in elementary schools and forcing schools to notify parents prior to any changes in the name or pronoun used for a student in school.
“My daughter ran track in high school. I don’t even know how I would have had that conversation with her,” Haley, the lone woman running for the Republican nomination, said.
Haley added that border security is also a top issue for her campaign, including the flow of opioids into the U.S. She said fentanyl is the leading cause of death among Americans aged 18-49 — though that statistic has been debated.
Asked about legal immigration during a question and answer session after her speech, Haley said she believes in a merit-based approach.
“We’ve gotta stop the red tape,” Haley added of the current process.
South Carolina’s “First in the South” primary is set for Feb. 24, while North Carolina’s presidential primary is March 5.