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China bashing prevails as U.S. vote nears - Oct. 16, 2012
President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at their first debate. Trade with China has become a major issue in the campaign. HONG KONG (CNNMoney) -- In what has become something of a campaign ritual for politicians of both parties, President Obama and Mitt Romney have adopted hard-line postures toward China as Election Day approaches.Whatever the result of the election, the rhetoric is likely to moderate after Nov. 6 if the experience of past administrations is anything to go by.Romney has pledged to label China as a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and frequently works the promise into his campaign speeches.The former consultant and private equity CEO has also accused the Obama administration of being too soft on China, especially on trade issues."It's time for us to stand up to China for their cheating," Romney told a crowd in Ohio on Saturday. "It's gotta stop."The president has been more circumspect in his use of language but the administration this year has filed trade complaints against China over autos and rare earths. It also blocked the sale of American wind farm companies to a Chinese firm.Related: Americans: China is an economic threatThe latest criticisms from the Republican candidate comes after the Treasury Department last week delayed the release of a report that has in the past criticized China for keeping the value of its currency artificially low.Delays are nothing new, but the next edition of the report is now unlikely to be issued until after the election.The president has run a campaign that has repeatedly sought to draw connections between Romney's tenure at Bain Capital and the outsourcing of American jobs to China."Mitt Romney: tough on China swtor power leveling? Since when?" a recent ad asked."[Romney] says he's gonna take the fight to them, he's going to go after these cheaters, and I've got to admit, that message is better than what he has actually done about this thing," Obama said earlier this month in Ohio.Romney and Obama are not the first presidential candidates to beat up on China.Bill Clinton famously referred to China's leaders as the "butchers of Beijing" during the 1992 presidential race. Four years later, George W. Bush criticized Clinton for being too easy on China."These guys all ate crow," said David Zweig, an associate dean at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "Once in office, presidents tend to change their behavior."That shift is not surprising given the nature of the relationship. China is one of the United States' largest trading partners, and the economies of the two countries -- the largest and second largest in the world -- are increasingly interconnected.Related: Ford posts record Chinese salesBeijing holds more than $1 trillion in U.S. debt, and U.S. exports to China are on the rise. China's currency, the yuan, has been allowed to appreciate in recent years but many American businesses argue it still does not reflect its true market value, giving Chinese exporters an unfair competitive advantage.Many analysts worry that Romney's plan to label China a currency manipulator could backfire, and the specificity of the promise leaves him few options but to follow through."He has created a huge problem for himself," Zweig said. "He has said consistently he will do it. So how does he climb down from that?"Economists are even more worried about the second part of Romney's initial China plan, which is to direct the Department of Commerce to institute countervailing duties on Chinese imports if China "does not quickly move to float its currency."That could spark a trade war between the two countries -- a circumstance likely to end unhappily for both Beijing and Washington.Related: Romney's China attacks worry businessThe Obama administration has taken protectionist actions, introducing tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels and tires.But the benefits have been hard to discern, and American consumers have ended up paying more for goods.Chinese officials have tolerated the campaign rhetoric with relatively good humor so far. Comment has been restricted to editorials in state-run media that are particularly critical of Romney.Zweig said that China's top officials are very much in tune with the realities of American politics, even down to which states are crucial to secure electoral victory.But talk is one thing, Zweig said, and action is another. Should a future administration depart from precedent and become significantly more aggressive toward China, Beijing will respond.First Published: October 16, 2012: 7:29 PM ET
China bashing prevails as U.S. vote nears - Oct. 16, 2012

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