Raymond Lu and Michael D. Swaine argue that presidential candidate Mitt Romney's rhetoric about China points to a direction of diplomatic neglect and military overreach, while leaving important strategic questions unanswered.
During the recent visit of Chinese heir apparent Xi Jinping to the United States, Mitt Romney lambasted the Obama administration for approaching Beijing as a "near supplicant" and permitting "the dawn of a Chinese century" to continue unopposed. The way forward: tougher economic penalties to reverse Washington's "trade surrender," and an invigorated military presence in the Pacific to force China to abandon its dreams of regional hegemony.
The conventional reading of Romney on China suggests that such chest-thumping rhetoric will fade with the election, giving way to the mainstream consensus that pairs economic and diplomatic engagement with strategic hedging.
Though this is at least partially true, leaving the next administration's China policy to the learning curve is still risky. Romney's tough talk on China conceals some profoundly deterministic--and pessimistic assumptions--about the future of U.S.-China relations that could accelerate existing momentum for future confrontations.
Without a critical appraisal of U.S. interests and capabilities, Romney could do both too much and too little to manage the frictions generated by an increasingly assertive China in Asia. Too much in that an overly aggressive and militarized response against China could set the two great powers on a collision course, and too little in that poorly-conceived interventions in other regions could force the United States to divert its attention and resources away from Asia, sending disturbing messages to China and U.S. allies alike.