China lashed out at Republican US presidential candidate Mitt Romney this week following an assault on China by Romney in a campaign speech Sept. 6 (Xinhua). In his"jobs plan" Romney called China a "cheater" and promised that as president he would impose trade restrictions if China doesn't comply with intellectual property laws and allow its currency to float freely in foreign exchange markets (see CNN Money).
"I'll clamp down on the cheaters, and China is the worst example of that...," Romney said, "...If they cheat, there is a price to pay.... I don't want a trade war, but I don't want a trade surrender either." Romney's tone contrasted sharply with that of Vice-President Joe Biden in a New York Times op-ed following his recent visit to China. Biden rejected the view of China's rise as a threat to America and said: "I remain convinced that a successful China can make our country more prosperous, not less.... As trade and investment bind us together, we have a stake in each other’s success."
China called Romney's remarks "old-fashioned and ill-advised," observing that US politicians of both major parties frequently resort to China-bashing in pursuit of votes. "China bashing has become a handy tool of US politicians, especially in electoral campaigns or times of economic difficulties...," an editorial at state-owned news agency Xinhua said, "...Crafty politicians tend to cater to and even ratchet up the antagonistic sentiment of some poorly informed voters toward China, dreaming that they could ride the anti-China waves to higher political echelons and even the White House."
Xinhua is correct that Democrats as well as Republicans often indulge in China-bashing to appeal to angry voters. The harshest anti-China rhetoric of late, however, has come from Republicans, who frequently resort to Cold War language to appeal to xenophobic Tea Party voters who make up a large portion of the Republican base of support. While Democrats such as Joe Biden focus on economic and trade issues in a spirit of constructive engagement with China, Republicans speak of China as an enemy in language reminiscent of the 1950s. Some, such as conservative media figures Lowell Ponte and Arthur Herman, still insist on referring to the country as "Red China," and claim that "China sees debt as a way to conquer America." Republicans use the same Cold War language against "socialist" President Barack Hussein Obama, whom they also nonsensically accuse of being in league with other perceived enemies including "Muslim terrorists" and "illegal Mexicans."
The insane pitch to which xenophobic nationalism has risen in Republican ranks cannot be overstated, and each of the Republican candidates competing for Tea Party primary votes will try to be more anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim, anti-China, and anti-Barack Hussein Obama than all the rest. The only exception is former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, the self-styled "sane Republican" who stands precisely zero chance of winning the Republican nomination. In a Republican debate this week Huntsman chastised Romney for the latter's belligerent remarks on China: "I'd have to say, Mitt, now is not the time in a recession to enter a trade war." Huntsman may be a reasonable man, but neither is now the time in the Republican Party for reasonable men.
As the "China threat" looms ever-larger in the paranoid minds of conservative Americans—and as the 2012 Republican campaign wears tiresomely on—we can expect anti-China rhetoric on the Right to grow more heated and to extend far beyond merely economic concerns. In particular, look for China's rising global influence to be waved around by national security hawks as a threat to American supremacy in Asia and the Middle East. Meanwhile, Democrats such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be at great pains to avoid accusations of being "soft on China."
A case in point is the vote on Palestinian statehood recognition later this month at the United Nations, where the US and China sit as two of only five permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto power. In loyalty to Israel he US has pledged to veto Palestinian statehood recognition, while China has declared that it will support the Palestinians. Calling China's move a "jolt to U.S. influence in the Middle East,"the right-wing World Net Daily (Aug. 29) said: "While China's stance is no surprise, it further complicates US-China relations at a time when the US position in the Middle East has eroded.... China also is flexing its influence elsewhere and has raised challenges to US military presence in East Asia."
On national security as on economic and trade issues, the tone among Republicans contrasts sharply with that of Democrats. "On issues from global security to global economic growth...," Joe Biden writes in the New York Times, "...we [the US and China] share common challenges and responsibilities—and we have incentives to work together. That is why our administration has worked to put our relationship on a stable footing."
China's response to Mitt Romney at Xinhua concludes in a similar spirit of cooperation: "China is no cause of the current US economic mess, and bashing Beijing is no cure for Washington's woes. What US policymakers should do is to revamp their own practices and foster more cooperation with China, which benefits from a thriving US economy."
Whichever party holds power in Washington, the US and China will undoubtedly have occasional differences on issues of importance to both countries. With Democrats such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the White House, however, these differences can at least be debated in a rational and sane manner.