WASHINGTON – In an election that may be decided on the strength of the American economy, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are looking to China to score political points as they compete for support from working-class voters.
But both candidates also are taking some heat about their dealings with the communist superpower.
Republicans accuse Obama of failing to follow through on promises to crack down on China’s trade policies. Democrats, meanwhile, raise questions about Romney’s leadership of a private equity firm that invested in companies operating in China.
Beyond politics, there are real policy differences that could have a dramatic impact on the relationship between the United States and the country that is the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury debt.
Romney and Obama campaign officials set aside time at their respective political conventions to meet privately with China’s ambassador to the United States. But publicly, both candidates are putting aside diplomatic niceties and talking tough.
The White House on Monday filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization over Chinese subsidies to its auto and auto parts industry, the latest in a series of actions dating to 2009 to protest what U.S. manufacturers say are the unfair advantages China gives its own industries.
At a campaign stop in Cincinnati, Obama charged that Romney made money from companies that outsourced jobs to China while running the private equity firm Bain Capital.
“You can’t stand up to China when all you’ve done is send them our jobs,” Obama said. “You can talk a good game. But I like to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. And my experience has been waking up every single day doing everything I can to make sure that American workers get a fair shot in the global economy.”
Romney shot back in a statement accusing Obama of ignoring China for too long.
Romney is promising an aggressive course on China. In particular, he has vowed to issue an executive order on his first day in office labeling China a currency manipulator, a designation that would trigger negotiations between the two countries and could ultimately lead to U.S. trade sanctions against China.
The designation is opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Jon Huntsman, the former GOP presidential candidate and onetime U.S. ambassador to China, who said it would spark a trade war that would damage U.S. businesses and threaten China’s willingness to buy U.S. Treasury debt.
On Monday, Romney called for a “crackdown on nations that cheat like China. That’s killing jobs.”
Meanwhile Monday, China filed a World Trade Organization case challenging U.S. anti-dumping measures on billions of dollars of kitchen appliances, paper and other goods, adding to worsening trade strains as global demand weakens.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said its latest WTO complaint centers on the U.S. Congress’ passage of a law this year that retroactively gave the Commerce Department power to impose anti-dumping duties on Chinese goods.