Hilary Matfess
Published: Saturday 27 October 2012
“The rhetoric of this campaign, in addition to recent developments in the economic and military spheres, may herald a tumultuous future for Sino-American relations.”

Chest-Thumping on China

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Though Mitt Romney and President Obama painstakingly attempted to illuminate their differences throughout the third presidential debate, their respective commentaries on the rise of China revealed the similarities between the two candidates. Both candidates lamented the American jobs shipped to China and both lambasted the Chinese for supposedly defying the rules of the global economy.

While much of the chest-thumping rhetoric can be attributed to the nature of modern American presidential campaigns, the use of China as a scapegoat for our anemic recovery and the accusations of "cheating" and "rule-breaking" are dangerous developments. The rhetoric of this campaign, in addition to recent developments in the economic and military spheres, may herald a tumultuous future for Sino-American relations.

The Obama administration has already sought to increase the U.S. presence in Asia through military, diplomatic, and economic strategies. Unfortunately, many of these measures have been conducted in a decidedly antagonistic nature. The Obama administration’s “Pacific Pivot” has increased tensions in the South China Sea and has placed many smaller countries in Asia in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between allying themselves with Beijing or Washington.

To be fair, the renewed military engagement in Asia has been accompanied by a surge in diplomatic efforts; however, many of these efforts have been focused on developing regional allies as counterweights to China. Throughout June of this year, President Obama hosted the president of the Philippines; Defense Secretary Leon Panetta toured Vietnam, Singapore, and India; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted representatives from India, Thailand, Cambodia, and South Korea.

Despite the ongoing militarization of the region, the most dramatic clashes between the United States and China have been economic. The negotiations surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership reflect a U.S. desire to entrench itself as an economic power in the region. Thus far Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia are members of the trade agreement, while South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines have expressed interest in joining. The whole project represents a U.S. challenge to Chinese economic ambitions in the region.

President Obama has leveled a host of accusations at China, accusing the country of not “playing by the same rules,” asserting that the American jobs lost to China reflected an uneven “playing field.” Mitt Romney took an even more aggressive tone in the final debate, repeating his oft-heard promise to label China a currency manipulator on “day one” of his presidency, enabling the United States to level retaliatory tariffs against China. Romney went so far as to assert that there was a “silent trade war” already underway with China.

Throughout the campaign, both candidates have demonstrated their commitment to disregarding fundamental aspects of international trade, such as the fact that when a capital-rich country (like the United States) engages in trade with a labor-abundant country (like China), the capital-rich country will lose jobs in labor-intensive industries (like low-skill manufacturing). While it is true that some Chinese companies have abused American intellectual property rights—and that the Chinese government may have suppressed the value of its currency—to suggest that these violations are a driving force behind the loss of U.S. jobs is like blaming the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The differences between the two candidates’ positions, while subtle, are important. President Obama, for better or worse, has demonstrated a commitment to making America a “Pacific power” in the holistic sense of the word. Mitt Romney has taken an antagonistic stance towards China and, in the final debate, seemed hell-bent on making the “silent trade war” between the United States and China a very loud and expensive confrontation.

It is important to note that the inflamed American rhetoric is matched by the Chinese, who are engaged in their own political process. When Americans enter the voting booth on November 6th—to choose between continued military, economic, and diplomatic pressure or a more rapid confrontation—we will be sending a message to the Chinese as to the future of Sino-American relations.



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ABOUT Hilary Matfess

Hilary Matfess is an Institute for Policy Studies intern and a Johns Hopkins University student.

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3 comments on "Chest-Thumping on China"

a j

October 28, 2012 5:10am

Garbage,

I for one don't blaim China for diddly.
They are a huge economic power.
Then you treat them like one, and you protect your own people and workers.
To say oh, well there a people rich country and work for nothing etc, and us rich westerners have to accept it, and say we've had our turn now lets accept the star of the future..
Bull and diddly again!
As far as western agression? Since when has the West had the corner on wars and violence. Well sure they developed the economies and technologies to destroy us all. Basically they have perfected to great destruction the aggression of the vast majority of all cultures of the world, and now many of those cultures are doing their best to catch up to that destruction level, in war and in environmental destruction.

What is their rational. Well the West did it and now it's our turn.

Then we have the new apologists for them.

Yes we all know that the West is the unique inventors of violence and war, while the rest of the worlds cultures are all peace, and love and non-agression!.

They also created parliamentary government, civil liberties, separation of Church and state, womens rights, public education and so on.
Creations that are constantly under attack in the world, including the Western Word, by the very peoples who have progressed through them and created them in the first place.

So, don't fight for those ideals. And of course lets get the western populations poor and even easier to manipulate, by outsourcing and investing in the new rising stars of the world!

So much for the ideal of the progressive apologist for the abuses of all societies except their own.

AJ

JoeWeinstein

October 27, 2012 7:39pm

This is yet another article which sweeps a key set of issues under the rug. Namely, it is not mere US policies, or policies or either nation on trade, which are promoting confrontation.
The USA, for all its faults, stands for free speech and for religious freedom and local autonomy. China continues to suppress and punish speech, and continues its illegal and immoral occupation and suppression of Tibet and persecution of Tibetan traditions and religion.
Neither America nor China wants violent confrontation but, thanks to these non-trade issues, America and China are not only trade partners but attitudinal adversaries. Another complicating issue is that China is the prop of the nasty N Korean regime which is starving millions of its people and - in itself and through involvement with Iran - promoting nuke de-stabilization.

danh

October 27, 2012 1:02pm

Well, if we wanted American jobs we would have kept the tariffs that helped us so much in the first 150 years of the Republic. We would also have managed to control our addiction to get involved in every war and dispute on the planet --- resources thrown away on the military are not building our productive capacity.

China, on the other hand, has avoided foreign wars since the Communists took over, has a one-child-per-family policy, has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, and is run by engineers (not lawyers and MBAs). That is, they succeed in every place we fail.

I don't think we have to worry too much about actual war though, because our economy is getting hollowed out to where we really are becoming a paper tiger.

Too bad the main stream media tries to hide this so we don't even consider real solutions.