The Candidates and The World

Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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China Update: New WTO Move Adds to Election-Year Debate

by Newsteam Staff
July 9, 2012

An employee walks past newly assembled Volvo cars at a Ford manufacturing plant in Chongqing municipality, April 20, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters). An employee walks past newly assembled Volvo cars at a Ford manufacturing plant in Chongqing municipality, April 20, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).


President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that he is issuing a new World Trade Organization complaint against China for unfair automobile industry trade practices as well as folding arguments against China into his campaign-trail talk about repairing the U.S. economy (YahooNews) highlights how significant the country has become to the election debate.

AFP notes that painting China as an economic villain has become par for the course this campaign season. The latest World Trade Organization action says steep duties China imposed in December on U.S.-produced cars and some SUVs are unfair and adds to an expanding list of grievances between the Obama administration and China, which includes rare-earth minerals, solar panels, and wind turbines.

Some analysts speculate the countries could be headed for a trade war (Bloomberg) in an election year in which China has received much attention from both President Obama and Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has vowed in speeches and commercials that he would get tougher with China on trade and currency practices from day one if elected. China has at times bristled from the added scrutiny.

At Commentary, Jonathan S. Tobin dismissed the WTO complaint as cynical election-year retooling of President Obama’s foreign policy. “Though the administration has registered prior complaints, the overall tenor of Obama’s attitude toward China has been more focused on appeasing Beijing rather than standing up to it,” Tobin writes.

At the Wall Street Journal, Michael Dunne writes that Obama is right to blast China’s auto trade practices but the WTO complaint about tariffs doesn’t go far enough when Chinese law says car global companies can only build and sell cars in China if they form a joint venture with a Chinese firm, which is usually owned by the state.

For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates on U.S. Policy toward China.

Suggested Other Reading:

At The Diplomat, Michael Auslin explains that all of China’s foreign policy is focused squarely on the United States. “Everything else is refracted through that lens.  Other relationships are considered for their utility to China’s goals of furthering its influence and countering America’s position, both in East Asia and other regions,” he writes.

The Heritage Foundation’s Derek Scissors says bashing China isn’t going to help fix the U.S. economy. “Chinese policy does warp the global economy in a number of ways, but 99 percent of our current problems is of our own making. Bashing China feels good but accomplishes nothing,” Scissors says.

This CFR interactive timeline looks at the history of U.S.-China relations.

— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

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