US Presidential Election 2012

Obama, Romney trade blows in debate on how to deal with China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 4:31am

US President Barack Obama, speaking in the third and final presidential debate yesterday, described China as both an adversary and a potential partner as the candidates vowed to get tough on Beijing's trade policies.

In a debate that was supposed to be limited to foreign policy, Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, used China as a foil to air competing domestic economic programmes, during their 90-minute debate in Boca Raton, Florida.

Obama was the more aggressive of the two, scolding Romney for being "all over the map" on foreign policy. However, the Republican appeared to have passed the "commander-in-chief" test of looking authoritative on national security issues. Neck and neck in the polls, neither man threw a knockout punch or made a gaffe as they clashed over Israel, Iran, Russia and the size of the US Navy.

With barely two weeks left until election day, the high-stakes debate strayed frequently into domestic policy, especially when referring to Beijing.

China is "both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules," said Obama.

Touting his administration's efforts to hold China accountable for breaching global trade rules, he said they had brought more cases to the World Trade Organisation than the previous administration had done in two terms.

"And we've won just about every case," he said.

Romney agreed that "we can be a partner with China".

But turning the China question back to domestic affairs, Romney cited a US valve-maker whose products he said were being counterfeited in China, right down to the serial numbers and packaging. "We have an enormous trade imbalance with China, and it's worse this year than last year, and it's worse last year than the year before."

Obama said investment in education and research was the true way to stay ahead of China. "Over the long term, in order for us to compete with China, we've also got to make sure, though, that we're ... taking care of business here at home," he said.

Romney repeated his pledge to press China to stop suppressing the value of its currency to make Chinese exports cheaper than those of US competitors. "That's why on day one, I will label them a currency manipulator, which allows us to apply tariffs where they're taking jobs."

Beijing urged the candidates to refrain from inflaming tensions. "US politicians no matter from what party should view China's development in an objective and rational light," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei .

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse