Mitt Romney's China Policy

By Michael Swaine & Oliver Palmer

China's impact on the U.S. economy and its rising global power gives China a significant role in the Republican primaries. Mitt Romney, the embattled frontrunner for the nomination, articulates a China policy focused primarily on economic issues to attack President Obama's handling of the American economy. On the few occasions that he discusses China from a security standpoint, Romney emphasizes the need for U.S. military predominance to deal with a potentially threatening China with opaque intentions.

In general, however, Romney's China policy is narrowly expressed, leaving many issues untouched and others only indirectly addressed. Instead, Romney talks about China in a limited, consistent, and measured manner that fits within a larger campaign narrative focused on domestic economic issues.

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Most notably, Romney's statements about "standing up to China" and labeling China a currency manipulator drew attention from media pundits and his Republican opponents alike. His critics accuse him of pandering to domestic workers, warning that Romney's assertive approach might spark a trade war.

Conventional wisdom eschews taking politicians at their word with tough campaign rhetoric on China, however, and some members of the business community suggest that if elected, Romney would eventually moderate his stance to deal with the complexity of U.S. policy on China.
Republican Contenders on China

The approach of Romney's Republican contenders to China varies along the dual lines of policy and politics. Compared to the other candidates, Romney has been relatively successful in providing substantive policy stances and fitting China coherently within his overall campaign narrative. Understanding the other candidates' approaches provides important contrasts to Romney's policies and approach.

Newt Gingrich, Romney's main rival in the primaries, has not articulated a coherent policy, choosing instead to employ fear-mongering rhetoric about a threatening China. Indeed, Gingrich's policy statements fail to exhibit a detailed understanding of China, despite his profession that he has "been studying China since the 1960s."

Gingrich's statements are inconsistent, on the one hand claiming that China overtaking the United States economically is one of three major "catastrophes" facing America, but on the other, saying, "I don't worry about China. I worry about us." Most of his responses to questions about China actually sidestep the topic, instead addressing problems in the U.S. domestic economy.

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Michael Swaine is a senior associate in the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Oliver Palmer is a junior fellow in the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

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