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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Second Debate: Both Obama And Romney Flail Over China

Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon |
October 17, 2012 | 3:08 p.m. PDT


(Barack Obama, Creative Commons)
(Barack Obama, Creative Commons)
The president maintained the status quo in discussing U.S. relations with China, while Romney continued to voice empty statements.

There has been a flurry of World Trade Organization (WTO) injunctions brought against China by the U.S. in recent weeks – a clear result of presidential politics. During Tuesday's debate, Obama said, “We’ve won all our free trade cases against China – Romney called us out for protectionism.” Even though Romney's repeated concern about China manipulating its currency, and consequent labeling of China as a "currency manipulator," is valid, the other vague claims Romney insists on making – such as, “I’m going to crack down on China,” and “when we trade with other nations we will make sure they play by the rules” – contain very little substance and do not reflect any kind of change in policy direction.

The U.S.'s trade relationship with China is incredibly complex, and the level of interdependence between both nations cannot be undone at this point by something as simplistic as a label. Since 2001, China has been a member of the WTO, which means that free trade rules and tariff regulations (such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, a.k.a. the GATT) apply to China just as they apply to any other WTO member. This also means that there is already an institutional framework set up with a protocol to deal with broken rules.

At the start of Obama’s presidency, on his first Asian Tour, Obama sought to challenge the status quo of foreign relations between the U.S. and China that had developed. However, as a result of the recession, Obama found himself negotiating from a very weak position, and Chinese president Hu Jintao treated Obama very much the way Nikita Khrushchev treated John F. Kennedy at their first meeting. Obama decided to play hardball right back at China and return U.S.-China relations to the status quo of a tense and misunderstood, but stable relationship with a China nobody is happy with, and that Obama wanted to change.

Ultimately, neither candidate elaborated on any foreign policy plan of significance vis-à-vis the U.S.-China relationship. Nevertheless, based on the debate Tuesday, it seems that Obama’s solution to the problem is to develop a comparative labor advantage by focusing on growing our skilled and educated labor force – a tall order to say the least - while Romney's solution seems to be spitting in the wind as to how he will make the U.S. more attractive to companies and investments that currently continue to move overseas.


Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of the 2012 Presidential Debate here.



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