POLITICS

Hillary Hammers China Trade, Bill Took $1.25 Mil From Chinese Businesses

04/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Throughout the campaign, but more so recently, Sen. Hillary Clinton has tried to tap into voter resentment over domestic job loss by leveling heavy criticism at China.

"Right here, over 200 Hoosiers built parts that guided our military's smart bombs to their targets. They were good jobs, but now they have gone to China," she says in an advertisement airing this week in Indiana. "George Bush could have stopped it. As your president I will fight to keep good jobs here, and to turn this economy around."

But while the spot may reflect legitimate skepticism of past trade agreements, the issue of China is touchy terrain for Clinton to tread on. As observers note, Clinton's viewpoints with respect to China have 'evolved' from her time as first lady, when she occasionally touted the benefits of trade with the emerging Asian market. She still was skeptical back then, they say, just less so.

Moreover, her recent remarks put her at odds with the position of her husband, whose philosophical and financial ties to the issue of trade with China are immense.

Indeed, since leaving the White House, the former president, according to a review of his records, has earned $1.25 million for six speaking engagements from Chinese businesses and forums. Three of these events were hosted by a Hong Kong-based private investment firm, one by a private real estate company, another by a spirits manufacturer, and another by a group that facilitates business-leader dialogue. On several occasions, according to the Clinton Foundation website, Bill Clinton touted the benefits of an open economic relationship between American and China.

"Consider the global economy," Bill Clinton told China CLSA Ltc., the investment firm, in 2002. "I think the protesters against globalization are dead wrong when they say the global economy is the cause of the world's problems... The global economy has lifted more people out of poverty in the last 20 years than at any time in history."

Comments such as these carry a more forgiving tone than the rhetoric coming from Senator Clinton, who, on the campaign trail, has called for the boycott of the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing and has decried the "slow erosion of our own economic sovereignty" to China.

On Thursday, an official with the Clinton campaign addressed the disparity, arguing that - much like the former president's support for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which his wife opposes - this was a matter of an intra-marriage dispute.

"You know Senator Clinton and President Clinton do not have the same views when it comes to trade. They have very similar views on a lot of issues," Howard Wolfson told reporters. "And on some issues they have different views and trade is one of them. They obviously agree on the difficult in confronting one's banker. But Senator Clinton does go farther and says that some the underlying deals have flaws that need to be addressed. I can't speak to President Clinton on that issue."

Nevertheless, there are political observers who see more grounds for concern, noting that Bill Clinton is the adviser closest to Hillary's ear.

"There is a very worrying pattern of former President Clinton being an unrepentant and often well paid promoter of the trade policies he pushed into place as president that are, according to campaign statements, [now opposed] by his closest political confidant, Sen. Clinton," said Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen.

Beyond politics, there is some other notable nuance to the issue. For starters, Senator Clinton didn't always express alarm over the impact that open Chinese markets would have on the American worker. Of course, support for free trade was easier when the prospect of job losses weren't so severe. Sen. Barack Obama, too, expressed conditioned support for trade with China in the past. And Clinton's current stance - to "ensure that we can take retaliatory action against China and other non-market economies when they subsidize their domestic industries" - shows an evolution in line with political realities.

However, observers note, it is important to remember that some of what Senator Clinton now rails against are economic afflictions traced partly to the policies of her husband. During the Clinton years, the president signed the deal that created the World Trade Organization, opened it up to China, and gave the country permanent "most favored nation" status.

"What Clinton did was just open this up without getting anything for American workers and the average American in return," said Jeff Faux, the founding president of the Economic Policy Institute, and an author of two critical books on Clinton's economic policy. "And it was largely driven by, number one, the multi-nationals that wanted access to China's labor, and also by Wall Street."

Not everyone sees it in such absolutes. Robert Shapiro, author of "Futurecast" and undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, argues that there is a "powerful" but "indirect" affect that the opening up of China's economy has had on manufacturing jobs in America.

"The Clinton administration has played a significant role in the increased economic development in China. The greatest role was played by the Chinese government, but the United States and Bill Clinton led the creation of the WTO," he said. "So, look, Bill Clinton has probably played a larger role in the unfolding of globalization than any single individual. Having said that, the real role is played by markets. The loss of US manufacturing jobs, the offshore outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing has been going on for thirty years."

What these two agree on is that, should Sen. Clinton win the White House, she will have, as her most trusted and closest adviser, a husband whose commitment to free trade is devout. The Clinton campaign has said this is a minor and ultimate irrelevant difference - the senator, they argue, is her own independent actor on every issue, including trade. But others have their eyebrows raised.

"It begs the question," said Wallach, "of how a future President Clinton would be influenced in her thinking by her husband, whose post-presidential activities show his zeal for policies his wife is campaigning against."

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