SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Trump tweeted out a remembrance of former President Bush this morning, saying, quote, "President George H.W. Bush led a long, successful and beautiful life. His accomplishments were great from beginning to end. He was a truly wonderful man and will be missed by all."
Trump's in Argentina attending the G-20 summit. He meets with Chinese President Xi later today at the G-20 at that summit, and both countries have slapped billions of dollars of tariffs on Chinese and U.S. imports. Max Baucus served for three years as U.S. ambassador to China, until January 2017. He joins us now from Beijing. Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us.
MAX BAUCUS: You bet, Scott. Good to be with you.
SIMON: I want to ask you to say something about former President Bush, if you could. First, he was, of course, a former U.S. ambassador to China, as were you. And you worked with him when you were senator from Montana. What are your recollections today?
BAUCUS: I think President Bush and his son - the whole Bush family are really an obligement to service, to decency, to just believing in America and helping make America strong. They're a wonderful family. I spent some time with President Bush up at the observatory when he was vice president, as well as in his office.
And we talk about China. He cared a lot about China, having served, in effect, as ambassador to China. He was a wonderful man. I have the greatest, high regard for him. But what comes through as much as anything is his decency - a wonderfully decent man. It's ironic now because if he were president, I think we'd be handling the China issue a little bit differently. I think it'd be quite constructive. And he'd be a wonderful president.
SIMON: Well, President Trump has vowed to raise tariffs to 25 percent from the current 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods and put tariffs on an additional $267 billion worth of goods. What do you think - what good, or not, do you think that'll do for both economies?
BAUCUS: I think it'd be very deleterious, damaging to both economies. I'm in China right now, and I talk to American businessmen in China, and I talk to Chinese businessmen in China. They're both very much opposed to these tariffs. Now, it's true that China is being a bit protectionist, and there are some measures that the United States should address. I think President Trump was right about that, but his method of addressing that with tariffs is a method which nobody I talked to thinks makes any sense.
SIMON: Why not tariffs, though? Why - what would be better? What would be more effective?
BAUCUS: Well, tariffs are a blunt instrument. In effect, they're a tax. And they don't address the issues that we're concerned with. A better approach, frankly, with the United States - not publicly criticizing China, but rather, sit down with our allies - with Europe, with Canada, Japan - and say, OK, we got a problem here with China. Well, that's a more coordinated effort to figure out how to deal with this. Now, it's difficult. It's hard. It takes time, but that's a more constructive approach.
SIMON: I want to ask you what they call an overarching question, though, Mr. Ambassador, as a former ambassador and former U.S. senator. The United States is examining its relationship with Saudi Arabia now, following the death of Jamal Khashoggi. I don't have to tell you about China's human rights policies. Does the United States make a mistake when we make so much of our relationship with China all about trade and not about human rights? Does it let a regime like Saudi Arabia say, well, why can't we be treated the same way?
BAUCUS: Well, there's no question. The United States has been the world leader and the beacon on the hill standing up for human rights. And we should maintain that position worldwide. Now, that doesn't mean we grind it into different countries and different leaders around the world. But it does mean we stand up for values, human dignity, human rights. It's very, very important. In effect, it also helps people in various countries push back against their leaders - that is, leaders who are not honoring human rights. It's very, very important.
I think, also, if we can go back to China, the United States should think again about the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The United States should find a way to get back into TPP. That'd go a long way.
SIMON: Former Ambassador Max Baucus, thanks very much for being with us, Sir.
BAUCUS: You bet. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.