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Candidates Differ on Handling China's Rise

October 27, 2012

China Policy has played a role in U.S. presidential debates for decades, and continues to do so today. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney agree China needs to play by the rules when it comes to trade. They differ on whether the U.S. should be more aggressive when it comes to enforcing those rules.

At the first televised presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960, the issue was U.S. support for Taiwan, then called Formosa.

"I believe strongly in the defense of Formosa," Kennedy stated during the debate. "These islands are a few miles, five or six miles off the coast of Red China within a general harbor area and more than 100 miles from Formosa."

The tradition of debating U.S.-China relations continues today.

Governor Romney says that if elected, he will label China a currency manipulator the first day of his presidency. That move could lead to broad trade sanctions against China.

"We have to say to our friends in China," said Romney, "'Look, you guys are playing aggressively. We understand it, but this can't keep on going. You can't keep on holding down the value of your currency, stealing our intellectual property, counterfeiting our products, selling them around the world, even to the United States.'"

President Obama opposes branding China a currency manipulator, arguing currencies are at their most advantageous point for U.S. exporters since 1993.

"China is both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules," noted Obama. "So my attitude coming into office was that we are going to insist that China plays by the same rules as everybody else."

The U.S. has borrowed more money from China than any other foreign country.

China is the U.S.'s second largest trading partner. Last year, the trade deficit with China was nearly $300 billion. President Obama argues his administration has doubled the number of complaints against unfair trade.

On human rights, President Obama's strategy is to push China to improve without embarrassing it. The Obama administration cites the release of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng, who took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, as an example of Obama's policy working.

Governor Romney says he would take a tougher stance toward China on human rights and has condemned China's one-child policy.

"I will cut off funding for the United Nations Population Fund which supports China's barbaric one-child policy," said Romney.

On defense, both candidates agree the United States needs to expand its influence in the Asia-Pacific region to counter China's rising power.

"We believe China can be a partner, but we're also sending a very clear signal that America is a Pacific power; that we are going to have a presence there," noted Obama.

Despite that statement of support, President Obama has not sold advanced F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.

Governor Romney meanwhile has given strong hints he would sell Taiwan the aircraft.

"They look at America's commitments around the world and they see what's happening, and they say, "Well, OK. Is America going to be strong?' And the answer is, yes, if I'm president, America will be very strong," said Romney.

When Kennedy and Nixon debated, the China Policy debate was for a domestic audience. Now, large audiences in China can watch the U.S. presidential campaign live online, with every word scrutinized for deeper meaning.

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