Daniel W. Drezner

Romney SMASH China!!

Romney SMASH China!!

Mitt Romney’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal is devoted to China policy.  Let’s take a read, shall we? 

Barack Obama is moving in precisely the wrong direction [on responding to China’s rise]. The shining accomplishment of the meetings in Washington this week with Xi Jinping—China’s vice president and likely future leader—was empty pomp and ceremony.

President Obama came into office as a near supplicant to Beijing, almost begging it to continue buying American debt so as to finance his profligate spending here at home. His administration demurred from raising issues of human rights for fear it would compromise agreement on the global economic crisis or even "the global climate-change crisis." Such weakness has only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made our allies question our staying power in East Asia.

Now, three years into his term, the president has belatedly responded with a much-ballyhooed "pivot" to Asia, a phrase that may prove to be as gimmicky and vacuous as his "reset" with Russia. The supposed pivot has been oversold and carries with it an unintended consequence: It has left our allies with the worrying impression that we left the region and might do so again.

The pivot is also vastly under-resourced. Despite his big talk about bolstering our military position in Asia, President Obama’s actions will inevitably weaken it. He plans to cut back on naval shipbuilding, shrink our Air Force, and slash our ground forces. Because of his policies and failed leadership, our military is facing nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade.

This is interesting because it’s the first time I’ve seen a GOP candidate try to respond substantively to the "pivot".  And, in my book, the criticism that Obama was too much of a supplicant to China in the first part of his term is actually a fair one.  Unfortunately, things fall apart after that. 

First, Asian allies were worried about the U.S. presence in the region because of the priority the Bush administration placed on the global war on terror, followed by the 2008 financial crisis.  Obama had little or nothing to do with it.

Second, it’s important and revealing that Romney only talked about the narrow, military part of the pivot.  Left unmentioned were the diplomatic components (joining the East Asia Summit, interceding on the South China Sea, warming relations with Myanmar, tripartite between the U.S., Australia and India) as well as the economic components (ratifying the FTA with South Korea, signing the framework agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership).  This is important, because any U.S. strategy in the Asia-Pacific region has to be a full-spectrum approach, while Romney seems peculiarly obsessed with shipbuilding. 

Third, the primary message Obama has been sending to Xi has been saying that China "don’t play by the rules."  Which, coincidentally enough, is exactly the same thing Romney says in the op-ed. 

In the economic arena, we must directly counter abusive Chinese practices in the areas of trade, intellectual property, and currency valuation. While I am prepared to work with Chinese leaders to ensure that our countries both benefit from trade, I will not continue an economic relationship that rewards China’s cheating and penalizes American companies and workers.

Unless China changes its ways, on day one of my presidency I will designate it a currency manipulator and take appropriate counteraction. A trade war with China is the last thing I want, but I cannot tolerate our current trade surrender.  (emphasis added)

The bolded section represents the only portion of the op-ed in which Romney even hints that he might cooperate with China.  The rest of it is pretty silly.  It’s ludicrous for Romney to claim he doesn’t want a trade war in the same breath that he promises "day one" action against China.  No wonder conservatives are labeling Romney’s China policy as "blaringly anti-trade." 

To be blunt, this China policy reads like it was composed by the Hulk.  Maybe this will work in the GOP primary, but Romney and his China advisors should know better.