How Will Romney Respond to a Rising China?

From the campaign trail, Mitt Romney took some time to talk China. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Romney criticizes China’s political model, bashes President Obama for his policies in the Asia Pacific, and lays out his own plan to ensure that the 21st century remains an “American century”:

[…]the dawn of a Chinese century—and the end of an American one—is not inevitable. America possesses inherent strengths that grant us a competitive advantage over China and the rest of the world. We must, however, restore those strengths.

[…]Barack Obama is moving in precisely the wrong direction. The shining accomplishment of the meetings in Washington this week with Xi Jinping—China’s vice president and likely future leader—was empty pomp and ceremony.

[…]A nation that represses its own people cannot ultimately be a trusted partner in an international system based on economic and political freedom. While it is obvious that any lasting democratic reform in China cannot be imposed from the outside, it is equally obvious that the Chinese people currently do not yet enjoy the requisite civil and political rights to turn internal dissent into effective reform.

I will never flinch from ensuring that our country is secure. And security in the Pacific means a world in which our economic and military power is second to none. It also means a world in which American values—the values of liberty and opportunity—continue to prevail over those of oppression and authoritarianism.

In a blog post for Foreign Policy, professor of international politics Daniel W. Drezner analyzes  Romney’s op-ed, shedding the light of reality on Obama’s dealings with China. He then quotes Romney, and suggests that the presidential hopeful is projecting a brutish China policy:

“In the economic arena, we must directly counter abusive Chinese practices in the areas of trade, intellectual property, and currency valuation. While I am prepared to work with Chinese leaders to ensure that our countries both benefit from trade, I will not continue an economic relationship that rewards China’s cheating and penalizes American companies and workers.

Unless China changes its ways, on day one of my presidency I will designate it a currency manipulator and take appropriate counteraction. A trade war with China is the last thing I want, but I cannot tolerate our current trade surrender.”  (emphasis added)

The bolded section represents the only portion of the op-ed in which Romney even hints that he might cooperate with China.  The rest of it is pretty silly.  It’s ludicrous for Romney to claim he doesn’t want a trade war in the same breath that he promises “day one” action against China.  No wonder conservatives are labeling Romney’s China policy as “blaringly anti-trade.”

To be blunt, this China policy reads like it was composed by the Hulk.  Maybe this will work in the GOP primary, but Romney and his China advisors should know better.

Debatably fluent mandarin speaker and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman – who has offered Romney his endorsement since dropping out of the GOP race – has also expressed disapproval of Romney’s stance on China. From ABC News:

“Well, let’s just say that it’s not unusual for candidates to be saying certain things about China,” Huntsman said. “I’ve seen a lot of candidates who later became president who used a lot of rhetoric. It’s much easier to talk about China in terms of the fear factor than the opportunity factor. I would disagree with some of what Governor Romney has said and it’s not surprising that Republicans disagree with each other from time to time.”

[…]“When it comes to China, I think it’s wrong-headed when you talk about slapping a tariff on day one. That pushes aside the reality, the complexity of the relationship, you sit down at the table with somebody like Xi Jinping, and you say we’ve got North Korea. We’ve got Iran. We’ve got Pakistan, We’ve got Burma. We’ve got the South China Sea. We have trade and investment, and they all kind of interrelate one with another when you sit down and negotiate a deal. That’s just the way the U.S.-China relationship is and has been for 40 years.”

A New York Times op-ed released on the same day as Romney’s offers a contrasting view. Focusing on the fundamental differences in the political models of the U.S. and China, Eric X. Li explains why China’s system may prove to be the better one:

The fundamental difference between Washington’s view and Beijing’s is whether political rights are considered God-given and therefore absolute or whether they should be seen as privileges to be negotiated based on the needs and conditions of the nation.

The West seems incapable of becoming less democratic even when its survival may depend on such a shift. In this sense, America today is similar to the old Soviet Union, which also viewed its political system as the ultimate end.

History does not bode well for the American way. Indeed, faith-based ideological hubris may soon drive democracy over the cliff.

Also see a Think Progress post pointing out that Romney’s plan is another expression of what has become a GOP trope. The latest Sinocism post asks if Romney’s China bashing is hypocritical. A collection of Romney quotes about China can be found at the 2012 Republican Candidates website. For more on U.S. views of and policy reactions to China’s rise, see America’s Incoherent Asia Policy and The Great China Debate, both via CDT.


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