What to Make of Romney’s China Talk?

While most assume that Mitt Romney’s “chest thumping rhetoric” will give way to reason if he wins the presidency this fall, Michael Swaine and Raymond Liu of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace warn that his position on China implies assumptions about the future of U.S.-China relations that could lead the two sides closer confrontation. From The Diplomat

Without a critical appraisal of U.S. interests and capabilities, Romney could do both too much and too little to manage the frictions generated by an increasingly assertive China in Asia. Too much in that an overly aggressive and militarized response against China could set the two great powers on a collision course, and too little in that poorly-conceived interventions in other regions could force the United States to divert its attention and resources away from Asia, sending disturbing messages to China and U.S. allies alike.

If elected, Romney would have to resist ideologically pleasing solutions that risk military overreach in competing with China, or conversely, political and diplomatic neglect of Asia. Both extremes could trigger the worst impulses in Beijing’s behavior toward its neighbors. Ideally, he would find a more optimal mix of policy instruments to shape a rising China’s calculation of its interests. But the United States will also have to re-examine how it defines its strategic interests in Asia, and the costs it is willing and able to bear in defense of those interests. The longer the next administration delays in making this assessment, the more painful the inevitable reckoning will be.

For Politico, Nina Hachigan and Jacob Stokes call Romney’s China trade talk problematic:

Romney says he will label China on “day one,” but what is his plan for day two? Declaring China a manipulator is a symbolically hostile gesture, coming as it would before he will have ever spoken to any Chinese leader officially. Yet, all this designation requires is further talks with Beijing — made all the more difficult by the declaration itself.

Oscillating between two extremes – bad-mouthing trade enforcement measures as union-coddling, then threatening immediate sanctions– to score political points is no way to shape national policy toward the fastest-growing, most-populated country on the planet.

We need a successful strategy that gets China to play by the rules so that both countries can benefit from free and fair trade. Romney should be explaining how he will strengthen the robust efforts started under the Obama administration. Not first opposing them and then pretending they didn’t happen.

A recent report in the New York Times looks at Romney’s China ties through Bain Capital, a private equity firm that he founded which is investing in Chinese surveillance equipment.

See also previous CDT coverage of Mitt Romney’s China stance and the 2012 U.S. Presidential election.

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