What Obama, Romney will say about China in foreign policy debate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 October, 2012, 1:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 October, 2012, 3:25pm

Less than 24 hours until the third and final debate before the 2012 presidential election, set for November 9, and candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney look to be tied.

"The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World", one of the topics laid out by moderator Bob Schieffer, will likely address the shifting power balance in Asia, but also the different facets to the United States and China's complex economic relationship: US debt owned by China, accusations of currency manipulation, as well as human rights.

However, voters will go to polls with only 15 out of 360 minutes through four debates having been given solely to discussion of the most-important relationship between the two nations, far less than many feel the subject deserves. China not only figured heavily in campaign ads, but also illustrates one of the sharpest differences between the two candidates, showing a Republican who appeals to the labour vote and a Democrat turning to the business community.

While Obama has the advantage of being an incumbent president with an inside view of current foreign policy debates, Romney's China-bashing rhetoric is effective ammunition against Obama, even if there's little reason to believe Romney would be able to follow through on his tough talk.

Given China's pursuit of free-market capitalism over the past 30 years, it stands to reason that the free trade candidate is the one Beijing wants:

Traditionally, Republicans have favored free trade, free enterprise, and less regulation -- qualities more or less compatible with China's present state economic philosophy of development, investment, trade, entrepreneurship, and efficiency -- not to mention a shared concern over the economic risk of curbing climate change.

Since the two countries established an official relationship in 1979, their overall relations have been better when Republicans have been in power. The logic is simple: no delusion from the outset, fewer human rights distractions, frank talk, and concrete cooperation whenever possible. This plain dealing tends to stabilize China-U.S. bilateral relations, as it avoids speculation and gaming.

The Washington Post suggests some essential readings to prep for the debate, The New Republic poses a few questions on behalf of the left, and the Heritage Foundation tells us the answers American conservatives want to hear.

The Washington Post also brings us some views from around the world of the two candidates:

In China, far more people appear to be paying attention to the U.S. presidential race this year than in 2008. Internet usage has exploded since then, and the non-state-owned news media has become more vibrant. There have been reports on Romney’s investments in the country, along with fascination about the democratic process.

But as China prepares for its once-in-a-decade power transition, which will come just days after the U.S. election, most official energy has been directed toward China’s future rather than on the possibility of a Romney victory.

The issue of human rights, as one US-based Chinese student reminds us, does not necessarily need to be decoupled from discussion of trade policy:

We will welcome it if you would mention that trade issues with China are not just purely economic but also involve human rights issues, because so many Chinese workers are being paid so low and have to work under harsh conditions to make very cheap products. These cheap goods are hurting not just American workers but Chinese workers as well.

Human rights were also mentioned in Xinhua's lengthy treatise this weekend arguing why China should be viewed as a benevolent rival:

To the U.S., China is a potential threat not so much for its extraordinary achievements, but for the political system under which its achievements have taken place.

It is true that the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), often accused by the U.S. of violating human rights and manipulating currency, is not perfect, but credit should be given to its consistent efforts to make things better.


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