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FP: Hollow Threats

March 21, 2012

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Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a Chinese newspaper, says that Mitt Romney's aggressive harangues about China don't trouble Chinese people. Hu asks: Does he really want to pick a fight with a nation of 1.3 billion people?

BEIJING — Mitt Romney has said a lot of tough things about China. But his words haven't troubled the Chinese people.

This is because, over the last 20 years, the China policies of U.S. presidents have always been milder than the threats the same men made on the campaign trail. In other words, no one seriously thinks that a candidate will actually implement these tough policies. The Chinese people have already mentally prepared for the possibility of Sino-U.S. relations growing tenser, but this is the result of Sino-U.S. competition rapidly growing fiercer, not the possibility of Romney becoming president.

Romney's tough words toward China sound very empty, as if he's just communicating to the electorate his determination to be faithful to America's national interests. Attacking China on human rights and its political system and describing China as an "opponent" in military and economic areas makes the loyalty he has pledged to the United States seem more real. Barack Obama, as president, cannot directly attack China; Romney, as a candidate, will attack us every chance he gets -- if merely to make the point that Obama is constrained and weak.

Romney's most striking attack line toward China is his stated desire to call China a currency-manipulating country on his first day in the White House. Will he really do this? I don't know. But what's certain is that if he does end up in the White House, he wouldn't dare provoke an all-out trade war between China and the United States. Even if he does call China a currency manipulator, the label will be meaningless because of the hugeness of Sino-U.S. trade.

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