On Monday, the candidates will square off on foreign policy. One of the five topics is China and how the next president will manage our complex, highly interdependent relationship with the world's second largest economy.
Our relationship with China has economic upsides for the U.S.--China is our fastest growing export market, for example--but also significant downsides, including intellectual property theft and market restrictions. America needs to work with Beijing on geopolitical challenges like Iran and climate change while also encouraging Beijing to act peacefully and according to the rule of law in the South China Sea. Striking a balance of firmness and cooperation with China that furthers U.S. interests is a tricky but crucial endeavor.
The Obama Administration has a record of success in managing this relationship. We need to know whether Governor Romney can do the same. Governor Romney has been talking tough about China on the campaign trail, but we know very little about his approach. Here are 20 questions he should answer on China.
1. Growing exports is one point in your five point plan for growing the American economy. Can you explain your decision not to visit a major US export market, like China, on your overseas trip?
2. The President is on track to fulfill his pledge to double US exports in 5 years, which many said was overly ambitious at the time he made it. Exports to China are up 50%. How will you improve on his record? Please be specific.
3. One of the few concrete foreign policy proposals you have offered is to brand China a currency manipulator on Day 1 of your Administration. How do you respond to the criticism that this will likely start a trade war?
4. Even if it doesn't start a trade war, do you think it makes sense to antagonize China's new leaders in this way before meeting them?
5. In your speeches, you often paint a dark picture of China's potential future path. Experts say that if we assume China will be an enemy, it is sure to become one. How do you respond?
6. U.S. presidents for the last 40 years have endeavored to develop a constructive, working relationship with China. On the campaign trail, you never speak about any opportunity associated with China. Is there none?
7. Are there issues on which you anticipate you will have to work on cooperatively with the leaders of China? (Hint: Iran, North Korea, Sudan).
8. You often criticize the President for letting China "walk all over" the US on trade. As you know, the President has brought more major trade actions against China than any other president. What trade actions would you take against China that the President has not already taken? In your book, No Apology, you criticized the Obama Administration for taking trade action against China on tire imports, saying, "President Obama's action to defend American tire companies from foreign competition ... is decidedly bad for the nation and our workers." What trade remedies are appropriate to pursue against China and which not?
9. How is your proposed "Reagan Economic Zone" different from the Trans Pacific Partnership that the President is already negotiating? The description of it on your Web site of a free trade agreement among "like-minded nations around the world that are genuinely committed to the principles of open markets" sounds very similar.
10. You've made several remarks on the campaign trail about the amount of money America borrows from China. I'm sure you know, however, that it only amounts to 8% of US debt altogether. And the Pentagon has recently stated in a report that it does not judge this arrangement to give China strategic leverage over the US. Do you feel differently?
11. You often attack the President for outsourcing jobs to China and yet, while you were at Bain, you invested in companies that did just that, according to the Boston Globe. Can you explain?
12. While at Bain, you invested in a Chinese company whose deplorable working conditions you described at a fundraiser earlier this year. Can you explain your decision?
13. According to the Financial Times, your trust was invested in the Chinese oil company Cnooc "at a time when the US was growing concerned about the Chinese oil company's multibillion-dollar dealings with Tehran." Can you explain that choice?
14. Despite a front page New York Times story, as far as we know, your blind trust is still invested in a Chinese technology company called Uniview that sells equipment to the Chinese government that it can use to spy on dissidents and Tibetan monks. But the trustee of your blind trust has said publicly that he will endeavor to make the investments in the blind trust conform to your positions, and whenever it comes to his attention that there is something inconsistent, he ends the investment?
15. You often make the point that the US has fewer ships in our Navy than in 1916. The Washington Post has called this a "3 Pinocchio" lie because today's boats are much more lethal, agile, flexible and high-tech than our great-grandfathers. Also, as you know, the recent drop in the number of ships happened under President George W. Bush, and the numbers are actually up under President Obama. So please describe what is missing from today's Navy and explain why they have not asked for it.
16. Why did you intervene in the Chen case when US diplomats were still on the ground in Beijing negotiating his release? Isn't that, at best, bad manners and, at worse, unpatriotic?
17. What do you think of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang?
18. You often talk about the importance of working with our allies in Asia. Given that the President has deepened engagement with them in so many ways, what would you do differently? Be specific please. Do you think there is any tension between engaging with allies and confirming China's conviction that the US is trying to contain it? Would you engage with multilateral institutions like ASEAN and the EAS in Asia to the same degree the Administration has?
19. Many experts think its essential for the US to ratify the Law of the Sea in order to have more leverage with China in the South China Sea. It's a move supported by the Coast Guard, the Navy, America's oil and gas companies and environmental groups. Do you support it?
20. China is now the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. What will be your approach to getting Beijing to commit to binding targets on its emissions?