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How Tough Should the U.S. Get on China?

September 23, 2012

U.S. presidential campaigns rarely raise foreign policy issues on a substantive level. When it comes to China, however, the candidates have elevated the issue from using China as a means of political insult to a noteworthy policy proposal, summarized as: time-to-get-tough-on-China.

This “time-to-get-tough” policy is noteworthy in the campaign line for three reasons.

First, past U.S. presidential campaigns have treated China as a less attractive piece worth dangling in front of the media and U.S. voters. This election, however, China-bashing has become an increasingly juicy piece for the candidates to dig in to, showing off how they will not let China have the larger bite of the world economy.

Second, the amount of ”toughness” differs between the paranoid Republican and the insecure Democratic camp. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center on September 18th, shows that about two-thirds of Republicans say it is time to get ”tougher” with China, compared with 53% of Democrats. Republicans are also twice as likely as Democrats to say that President Obama should be tougher on Beijing. In line with these non-surprising statistics, Governor Romney bashed Obama for not being tough enough, saying that “President Obama promised to take China ‘to the mat’ but instead he has allowed China to treat the United States like a doormat.”

Third, according to the same Pew survey, Americans feel more threatened by China compared to any other country. Thus, as voters may seek a presidential candidate whom can settle their fears and reassure the toughness of the U.S., Mitt Romney have come to Americas rescue, rolled up his sleeves and assured Americans that he will fire up the pressure on Beijing. Specifically, Romney have promised that in his first day in office, he will issue an executive order branding China a currency manipulator. While hawkish Americans may feel a sense of security by Romney’s Rambo rhetoric’s, the discussion of triggering a trade war or mutual political mistrust with such an executive order is something the GOP candidate is not tough enough to discuss.

Surely, the November 6th election will not be determined by the candidates’ detailed policy stance on China on the global economy, on handling the cyber attacks from China, on China’s growing military power, or on the tensions between China and Taiwan. Instead, it will be determined by the candidate who can successfully bash China for the high unemployment rate and show how they will toughen up against such an employment-thief.

Many Americans may feel a sense of security and patriotism by the candidates pledge to ratch up the pressure on Beijing. Nevertheless, from a foreigner’s perspective, there are more dangers in the candidates misleading time-to-get-tough rhetoric’s. A better alternative is that the candidates roll down their arm sleeves and treat China in the U.S. presidential race with respect and thoughtful policy discourse. Cultivating an anti-China ideology is making the U.S. largest trading partner into a mistrusting friend, which the U.S. neither need nor want in an era of globalization.

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