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US campaign teams clash on China

Publication Date : 26-10-2012


The Romney campaign has downplayed fears of a trade war with China should the Republicans win in November, saying presidential challenger Mitt Romney's pledge to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office 'would not trigger Armageddon'.

Rather, the move would "put China on notice", said Dr Aaron Friedberg, co-chairman of the Romney campaign's Asia-Pacific working group.

"It would begin a process of discussion and ultimately negotiation between the US and China and, if necessary, it would be followed by the imposition of countervailing duties on some products on a sliding scale."

His comments drew a quick rebuttal from a former top Asia policy aide to President Barack Obama.

Romney's action would provoke a retaliation from China's new leaders, who 'will not be in a passive or submissive mood', warned Dr Jeffrey Bader, who was senior director for East Asian affairs on the US National Security Council from 2009 to 2011.

"The idea of doing it on the first day in office I find, frankly, astonishing," he added. "This will prejudice relations from Day One."

The two men were sparring on a wide range of China policy issues at a debate organised by the Committee of 100, a Chinese- American organisation that promotes US-China ties. It was held on Wednesday at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

The two-hour encounter expanded on the brief exchange Romney and President Barack Obama had on China on Monday night, in the third and final presidential debate focused on foreign policy. Like the two candidates, the advisers did not have dramatically different views on topics from the impact of China's rise to Beijing's behaviour in the South China Sea.

Their differences were nuanced, but Dr Friedberg was more hawkish.

Dr Bader noted that even though there was much room for China to improve its trade and currency practices, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his predecessor Henry Paulson had both preferred diplomacy with Beijing over confrontation by declaring China a currency manipulator.

Dr Friedberg disagreed, saying the US should not be 'paralysed' by fears of a trade war. Instead, 'we need to find ways of exerting leverage, not to punish, but to create a more equal and beneficial' trade and economic relationship with China.

Dr Friedberg accused the Obama administration of not having a coherent China policy, resulting in 'strained' ties.

"Beijing continues to behave assertively, even aggressively, towards its neighbours," including US treaty allies Japan and the Philippines, he said.

On trade problems with China, he called the Obama administration's reponse belated and half-hearted.

In contrast, Romney's move to call China a currency manipulator would send a strong message to Beijing that a Romney administration would be prepared to act more firmly on a range of unfair trade practices that China has engaged in, including export subsidies and intellectual property violations, said Dr Friedberg, who is an international affairs professor at Princeton University.


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