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The Awkward Politics of Presidential China-Bashing

Posted by: Joshua Green on February 8, 2012


Next week, President Obama is set to meet with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (above), who is in line to become the country’s next president. This is a fraught issue, not only because China looms so large in presidential and congressional elections, but because, as Bloomberg’s Julianna Goldman explains in a great piece this morning, it puts Obama in the politically disadvantageous position of having to speak delicately about an important foreign competitor that his likely opponent, Mitt Romney, can tee off on (thus painting the president as a weak-kneed conciliator, etc.):

While Republican front-runner Mitt Romney has said he would slap sanctions on the Chinese for unfair trade practices and direct the Treasury Department to list China as a currency manipulator, Obama … is seeking China’s cooperation on broader global issues, including dealing with the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

“Romney has the freedom to say those kinds of things,” said [Tony] Fratto. “The president is boxed in by the reality of the policy environment and the very complicated relationship that it’s his charge to maintain with China.”

Rhetoric about China regularly becomes heated during campaigns as candidates make appeals to middle-income Americans concerned about jobs being shipped to cheaper labor markets. The U.S. had a $273 billion trade deficit with China in 2010.

Castigating China has been an effective tactic for both parties, especially in areas of the country like the Midwest that have suffered disproportionately from the weak economy. While the example du jour of electoral China-bashing is this extremely controversial ad by Republican Pete Hoekstra, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has also aggressively invoked the image of a “Chinese menace,” such as in ads like this one and this one that it ran against Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania in 2010.

As Goldman notes, candidate Obama didn’t shy away from using China as a political weapon, famously calling President George W. Bush a “patsy” for not driving a harder bargain on trade talks. That’s a lot tougher for him to do — impossible, actually — now that he’s the one ultimately responsible for negotiations. That’s a difficulty the Romney campaign is happy to exploit.

But don’t expect a President Romney to live up to the tough talk if he makes it to the White House. As I wrote last November, there is a long, bipartisan history of presidential candidates thumping their chest about all they’ll do to set China straight. With minor exceptions, few have tried —and those that did try failed.

(Photographer: Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

Reader Comments


February 8, 2012 3:07 PM

China is Ultimate proof that Republicans, Republic-rats, which means the Wall Street gang aka right-wing Kabal behind them, have been playing an ULTIMATE Con Job on American people.

For while Republicans have been saying any lunatic non-sense to carry out their ultimate Con Job on American people, such as:

"Government is the problem not the solution..."
"Government does not create Jobs..."
"Government take over of health care bad.."

they have invested Trillions of Dollars and thus moved 10s of Millions of Jobs from US to China, and what is China? China is the ULTIMATE Example of Big Government given the FACT that China is a Communist Capitalist country with Chinese Government NOT just running health care, etc. as Europeans do, on Socialized basis, but in China also the Top banks, Top Energy companies, etc. are all Nationalized, which means are run by Chinese Government on Socialized basis.



February 8, 2012 3:36 PM

“There are some foreigners who have nothing better to do, than to criticize China’s affairs. Now, China firstly does not export revolution, secondly does not export poverty and hunger, or make trouble with you, so why do you still want to complain?” said Vice President Xi. Essentially Xi is saying, as long as we are only oppressing our own people, America should butt out.

This shows that China will continue to be ruled by an authoritarian regime for the next generation of leaders. Why then do American universities who treasure academic freedom make deal after deal with China? The University of Michigan has a joint campus in Shanghai that was the source of the cyber attacks on Google last year. There are many other American universities that have similar deals with China. Read more at


February 8, 2012 5:05 PM

The inflammatory remarks of the Republican presidential candidates and Pete Hoestra don't help the delicate balance of working with China contain North Korea and Iran. All of this political rhetoric is stupid and jeopardizes delicate negotiations.


February 8, 2012 5:05 PM

The inflammatory remarks of the Republican presidential candidates and Pete Hoestra don't help the delicate balance of working with China contain North Korea and Iran. All of this political rhetoric is stupid and jeopardizes delicate negotiations.

josh groban

February 8, 2012 9:02 PM

Data Entry Specialist needed..U.S and U.K residents are prioritized..

josh groban

February 8, 2012 9:08 PM

my classmate's mother makes $69 hourly on the laptop. She has been without a job for 6 months but last month her paycheck was $8401 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site


February 10, 2012 10:13 AM

It is stupid and dangerours policy to play fire with china. US-China relationship is the most important relationship on earth, it is US national interests to maintain this relationship, yet, from medium to politicians, they justhave fun to get China.
This shows how lack of leadership of the country. we like live in a darkroom with door and window closed, know little about outside.
No american jobs move to other countries by anybody. this is business. one job created in other country does not mean one job disapperared in US. no relationship. you just have to compete. if you lose, it is business, not because somebody move the job.
if we keep talking this way, we know we are selfcheating and we are indeed losing to others.


February 18, 2012 7:32 PM

What a lovely day for a 156973! SCK was here


February 27, 2012 9:55 AM

here to see the orgiinal: Are The Republican Presidential Candidates Set Or Will There Be A Tags: country, ill-informed, minute-based, other-uninformed, political, political-process,

Allan Grissom

March 26, 2012 12:16 PM

I simply don't get how buying can be better in most cases. My apartment is walking distance to shopping, coffee and pizza. It's nicely painted, has hardwood floors and granite countertops. When something breaks, my landlord's professional crew fixes it in 1/10 the time it would take me, and they do a much better job than I ever could. There are no property taxes.

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Led by Bloomberg Businessweek's Washington correspondent, "Joshua Green on Politics" is a blog devoted to national politics and public policy issues, from Congress to the 2012 Presidential campaign trail. A special focus will be the intersection of business and politics. Follow the author on Twitter (@JoshuaGreen). To book for television or radio appearances, call Patti Straus, 212-617-3279, or e-mail

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