Rubio: China's leaders are tyrants

Marco Rubio: China's leaders are tyrants
Sen. Rubio's economic agenda

GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio said Friday that China's leaders are tyrants, and he included them in a group of five destabilizing forces, including ISIS.

"Look around the world today. Every source of instability on this planet is created by a tyranny. It's the North Koreans, the Chinese, the Russians, radical Islamists and Iran," the Florida senator told CNBC's "Squawk Box." "What do all five of them have in common? They are all tyrannies. None of them are democracies obviously. ... They're all serial violators of human rights."

"In Moscow, if you oppose Putin you wind up poisoned or dead. In China, there's well-documented human rights abuses. North Korea is horrifying, what happens there. We all know about ISIS. We all know about Iran."

Rubio said the United States must not fall into the trap of believing engagement and more trade with China will change the country's behavior.

"At the end of the day, China is governed by an autocratic, communist regime—very closed off—and they're strategic competitors at a minimum without a doubt. And in the case of their military posture in the Asia-Pacific region, they are increasingly a strategic competitor and potentially [an] adversary," he said.

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The Chinese leadership has increased repression in recent years because the model they've been following for the last 20 years has run its course, he said.

Rubio said he wants the United States to have a better relationship with China, but not at the expense of its principles. The U.S. must continue to engage with China and recognize its geopolitical importance, but leaders do not have to silence themselves on human rights issues, he added.

"It doesn't mean you look the other way on things they do to their own people because quite frankly, if they grow more powerful, they're going to export—for lack of a better word—their values. And their values are not the kind of world I want to live in," he said.

He said President Barack Obama has given only "lip service" to human rights, putting the issue aside in the interest of engaging with China. He reiterated his promise that if elected president, he would invite dissidents from all over the world to attend his inauguration.

Sen. Marco Rubio.
Mary Stevens | CNBC

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece on Thursday, Rubio said Obama was continuing "to appease China's leaders despite their mounting aggression."

In the same op-ed, published ahead of a foreign policy speech scheduled for Friday, he laid out a three-point policy toward China under which his administration would seek to counter China's military presence in Asia by reinforcing ties in the region, hold the country's leaders to free market principles, and undermine human rights abuses through diplomacy and visa bans on Chinese officials.

Rubio's speech comes a week ahead of a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In a poll released Tuesday, Public Policy Polling showed Rubio tied for seventh place with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with 4 percent support in New Hampshire, which will hold the nation's first primary in February.

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Donald Trump leads the state with 35 percent support, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of 4.7 percentage points among Republicans and 5.1 points for Democrats.