- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
A day after denouncing President Obama for his handling of attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, Mitt Romney appears to be changing the subject. During a campaign stop in Virginia on Thursday, the Republican candidate veered away from the controversial critique, focusing on foreign-policy issues such as China instead.
Accusing Beijing of decimating American manufacturing by undervaluing its currency, Romney declared that he’ll "call [the Chinese] on the carpet" if they continue to "cheat." Obama "had the chance year after year to label China a currency manipulator, but he hasn’t done so," Romney added. "And I will label China the currency manipulator they are on the first day."
The Romney campaign complemented the speech with a new ad accusing Obama of "failing to stop cheating" by ceding manufacturing ground to China (the Obama campaign quickly shot off a press release pointing to manufacturing job growth since 2010 and the administration’s seven trade complaints against China). At one point in the spot, Romney passionately tells a small audience on a factory floor that "it’s time to stand up to the cheaters."
All of this makes me wonder: How are the Chinese, who are gearing up for their own leadership transition this fall, responding to all this cheating talk?
It turns out they don’t care very much. And when they do, they don’t see as much of a difference between the two candidates as you might think. After all, as a candidate in 2008 Obama bashed Beijing for manipulating its currency and accused George W. Bush of being a "patsy" in his trade negotiations with China. As Bloomberg’s Adam Minter recently put it in an entertaining look at Chinese impressions of the U.S. election, Romney is "boiled cabbage next to Obama’s boiled chicken."
China-bashing, many Chinese news outlets argue, has simply become par for the course in U.S. elections. Romney may be trying to "curry favor with hard right-wing elements in the Republican Party" with his proposals on China, a recent op-ed in the state-run China Daily noted, but the Chinese people, "have become inured to such campaign talk from American politicians. Since the end of the Cold War, both Democratic and Republican politicians have cited former US policies toward China in attempts to rake up unsavory parts of each other’s pasts." The campaign rhetoric is "just meant to win votes and would prove disastrous if pursued," the writer adds.
An editorial late last month in the state-run Global Times — entitled, "U.S. election pick barely matters for China" — is even more dismissive and aggressive:
[Romney] has attracted less attention from the Chinese public than previous candidates. In the recent few days, Chinese media has focused on a fleeing official and the inappropriate behavior of a security supervisor at the site of a traffic accident.
To China, the US matters less than before. Even though the majority of Chinese think the US intends to contain China and are worried about potential confrontation between the two sides, but the worry hasn’t generated much apprehension.
Chinese increasingly believe the biggest challenge for the country comes from within. Washington cannot easily threaten us. Any move of the US against China will be responded to accordingly.
So far, I’m not seeing much coverage of Romney’s new ad in the Chinese press. Then again, I suppose that’s not surprising.