China Questions for Third Obama-Romney Debate

Though China has already featured in the U.S. presidential debates, the focus on foreign policy in Monday’s performance is set to bring the most direct discussion yet. David Sanger posted a field guide to the debate at The New York Times’ Caucus blog:

If the moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, has his way, it will be the most substantive of the debates. He has outlined several topics: America’s role in the world, the continuing war in Afghanistan, managing the nuclear crisis with Iran and the resultant tensions with Israel, and how to deal with rise of China.

[…] CHINA Perhaps the most important long-term subject of the debate. Mr. Romney promises a hard line, saying he would declare China as a currency manipulator from Day 1 of his presidency. But he has not said much about Day 2, or Year 2. This is the moment for each candidate to describe how he would counter China’s growing claims in the South China Sea and other disputed territories, how he would handle trade tensions, and how he would manage a world in which the United States, for better or worse, is going to be reliant on Chinese investment in American debt for years to come. And it is the moment for each to give his view of the leadership change under way in China, where three-quarters of the top political posts are about to change hands.

South China Morning Post’s John Kennedy also looked at what the candidates would have to say about China, while The Guardian’s Tania Branigan examined Chinese reactions to getting caught in the American crossfire. (For some responses to the first debate, see our earlier post on CDT.)

At the Council on Foreign Relations, Elizabeth Economy proposed four China-focused questions for the candidates, on China’s “fair share” in addressing global challenges, the effects of its expected rise to become the world’s largest economy, Obama’s pivot towards the Asia-Pacific and the existence or otherwise of a credible “China Model” for other developing countries. She concludes:

Frankly, I am glad that unlike the Middle East, China is not reeling from one crisis to another, while the United States struggles to find effective policy tools. China does not provide safe haven for terrorists and it did not trigger the global financial crisis. For the purposes of the presidential debate on foreign policy, that makes China appear a second tier issue.

Still, China may well pose a far more serious strategic challenge to the United States and the global system. Chinese officials have called for the world to move away from the dollar as its reserve currency, challenged U.S. notions of good governance throughout the world, and blocked U.S. initiatives to address crises in Syria and Iran. All of this makes China an issue of paramount importance for the presidential debate. Let’s hope that Mr. Schieffer can push the candidates to take the issue and the American people seriously enough to aim for profound rather than petty.

Foreign Policy’s list of fifty questions from contributors, readers and outside experts naturally included several on China. Among them:

President Obama, given how much money the United States borrows from China each day, how can your administration expect to persuade the Chinese government to do anything it wouldn’t otherwise do? — Ian Bremmer, Eurasia Group

Governor Romney, you’ve argued repeatedly that China has manipulated its currency to obtain an unfair trade advantage. While that might have been true in the past, the latest data suggest that China halted this activity in 2012. Do you still plan to label China a currency manipulator on day one? — Daniel Drezner, Tufts University

President Obama, you have dramatically increased the targeted killing of suspected terrorists with unmanned drones […]. What if other countries, say China or Russia, asserted the same power to kill their enemies across the world? — Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch

Would you endorse a law prohibiting American Internet companies from participating in any Chinese censorship efforts? — Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch

If moderator Bob Schieffer does add these to the script, however, there may not be time to get through them all. Also at Foreign Policy, Daniel Drezner notes that China has been allocated a mere 15 minutes of the 90 minute debate, to be shared with the vague catch-all “Tomorrow’s World”.

So two-thirds of the debate will be about the Greater Middle East. Two-thirds. Schieffer has generously allowed that China and Tomorrowland the entire Pacific Rim should get fifteen minutes […].

[…] I’m not saying the Middle East isn’t important — we have lost blood and treasure there, some of it very recently. But I simply do not believe that the region is so important that it should occupy 66.7% of a foreign policy debate.

But the Middle East-focused Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security offered some advice: