Obama vs. Romney on China
September 25th, 2012
10:12 AM ET

Obama vs. Romney on China

By Adam Hersh, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Adam Hersh is an economist at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The views expressed are the author’s own.

A formal White House challenge last week against Chinese subsidies that threaten U.S. auto industry jobs is being interpreted as the latest salvo in a contest about whether the president or challenger Mitt Romney is tougher on China. Heightened political focus on trade policy is welcome, but the choice for voters comes at a critical moment in U.S.-Sino trade relations. After decades of robust growth, China’s economy is slowing just as a scandal-laden Communist Party is facing its biggest threat to legitimacy since Tiananmen Square. China’s leaders will probably double-down on anti-competitive trade practices to shore up growth and their hold on power, undercutting industries and communities across the United States just as U.S. exports and manufacturing jobs are gaining ground.

That means U.S. voters should carefully consider the presidential candidates’ position on China, because those policies could very well have a bottom-line effect on our economy. Most voters probably haven’t heard too much about China so far this campaign, save maybe Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney’s accusation that President Barack Obama is being treated like “China’s doormat.”

In truth, the candidates’ policy positions are more similar than Romney would care to admit. And, unlike Romney, Obama has a substantial record of action and results on China trade, not just tough talk.

What we know of Romney’s track record is less than encouraging. He has profited from shuttering American factories and reopening them in China and other low-wage countries. According to our analysis, his tax proposals would further widen the loopholes that incentivize corporate offshoring. And his gaffe-laden trip this summer to London, Poland, and Israel drew rebukes even from Republican political operative Karl Rove.

Meanwhile, Obama has already accomplished most of what Romney pledges to do on trade, and more. Romney’s 59 point economic plan calls for implementing trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, and negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral agreement between partners on both sides of the Pacific. The president has already checked these off his to-do list.

Romney pledges to increase funding for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to enforce the rules of fair trade. So does President Obama, who allocated the office an additional $80 million in his proposed budget, which was ultimately obstructed by conservatives in Congress. Going beyond just proposing more money for trade enforcement, Obama created an Interagency Trade Enforcement Center to make our government smarter and more effective at ensuring a level playing field for U.S. workers and businesses competing in the global economy.

Indeed, Obama has been tougher on enforcing trade rules than anyone who came before. The Obama administration is pressing World Trade Organization complaints against China at nearly double the pace of President George W. Bush and is prosecuting China dumping and countervailing duty violations of U.S. law at a pace 25 percent faster than under Bush. As a result, U.S. exports are now growing faster than under either Presidents Bush or Bill Clinton, and U.S. manufacturing added new jobs for the first time in a longtime: more than half a million since the beginning of 2010.

There are differences in style and substance between the candidates on the critical issue of China’s artificially undervalued exchange rate, which gives Chinese exporters an unfair competitive advantage over American producers. Romney says he will label China a “currency manipulator” on Day 1 of his presidency, a declaration that under U.S. law would trigger diplomatic action. Obama has preferred to apply pressure behind the scenes, dispatching hundreds of officials from across the government to a new and annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The president’s approach – more substantive and nuanced than name-calling threats – has worked; China raised its exchange rate nearly 8 percent from 2010 to April 2012.

Since April, however, China’s currency again depreciated by 1 percent as its economic growth faltered. Clearly, more than just bilateral pressure is needed to keep China’s exchange rate honest. So the president has pressed the Group of 20 industrialized and emerging economy nations to join forces on this problem. And as a consequence, China has agreed to a “mutual assessment process” under the G-20 to evaluate the damage its policies are doing to worldwide economic growth and stability.

Continued progress on Sino-American economic relations requires a steady and experienced hand at the controls in the next four years, as China’s weakening economy increases the likelihood it will resort to anticompetitive practices. Romney’s background as an outsourcing pioneer with limited diplomatic experience and a penchant for inflammatory rhetoric should give U.S. voters pause in November.

Hanna Zhu, economics student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and CAPAF intern, provided research assistance on this article.

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Topics: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • China • Economy • Mitt Romney

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soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. james

    This article is embarrassing. The author and all contributors should be ashamed of themselves for such misguided journalism. The cause / effect links are imaginary at best. Unreal. There's about 20 things wrong with this article.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:17 am | Reply
    • jonathon smith

      no kidding, get off obama's jock. what happen to that balanced budget he promised? or the $8000 i would save on gas per year? one lie after another with this pos.

      September 25, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Reply
      • generalfu

        and what does that have to do with foreign policy?

        October 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  2. Jimmy

    James, please enlighten us on how a good article should be wrttien and stated. You know, since you are such a great writer and work at CNN and have your articles published on a daily basis.
    Please educate us.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply
  3. Maersk

    Oba Mao VS. Mormen's Moron

    I would rather erect for Palin during the president erection day at least she is erectable, or should I say she is humpable. For the other two monkeys, they can go zuck their own kwok and swallow their own kum and leave China alone during the presidential erection day because it is not like it's a Chinese erection day.

    September 25, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  4. UHHH

    The US is the biggest currency manipulator THAN any other country! When in debt and doubt, print more $$$$$$$, no wonder there's so much inflation.
    Anyhow, both candidates see China as a threat, so what's the difference? On other cases, like abortion, Obama's clearly the saner one.... But they're on equal footing in this case.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Reply
    • Gene

      Do you have anything, anything at all to back your rant? or, did you just dip into your vast knowledge?

      September 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Reply
      • UHHH

        What do you call all the QEs? They affect the world and are short term solutions for the US debt crisis. Heard another one's coming. =/

        September 25, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  5. Kay

    Adam Hersh is a liar. He shouldn't be a journalist. I am beginning not to trust CNN. He should report facts, not his one dimensional opinions.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Reply
    • Blah Thats all you say

      You are talking about facts and opinions yet this is your opinion about Hersh. Wheres the facts to back it up?
      Its ok, i'll wait....

      September 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  6. j. von hettlingen

    this site is jammed!

    September 26, 2012 at 7:55 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Obama will beat Romney, who doesn't have a sharp mind but a loose tongue.

      September 26, 2012 at 7:57 am | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        Romney would be a thorn in the Sino-American relations' side, were he be elected!

        September 26, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  7. Alan Tonelson

    What pathetic partisan nonsense. If Obama was a Republican, hacks like this would be foaming at the mouth at a record this weak and ineffective.

    September 26, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Reply

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