As China's Next PM Prepares for America Visit, Mitt Romney's Threats of Trade War Strain U.S.-China Relationship

Xi Jinping, the man that will likely be China’s prime minister later this year, will visit the U.S. next week on a trip that will take him to California and Iowa, in addition to Washington. The visit will allow China’s future leader to develop relationships with American officials and affirm the “strategic partnership” between the U.S. and China nearly 40 years after Nixon’s historic visit. But while both sides are publicly stressing the importance of the visit and the importance of U.S.-China cooperation, there are a host of specific issues on the table that have no easy resolution in sight. The timing of the visit is especially delicate as the election heats up, with candidates frequently bashing China and its trade policies.

There is a kind of tacit understanding that election year criticism of China is unavoidable and will not harm the long-term relationship of the U.S. and China. But the uptick in overtly racist campaign ads and Romney’s jingoistic rhetoric threatening a trade war against China have reached a higher level of vitriol than in previous elections. The most aggressive critics of China want to press charges against China in the WTO, somehow persuade the country to raise the value of the Yuan, and impose direct tariffs on Chinese imports.

Aside from resentment of China’s trade policies vis a vis the U.S., there is also anger at China’s recent veto of a UN resolution condemning Syria, as well as its continued hesitancy to embrace sanctions on Iran.

First of all, it’s important for Americans to take a realistic approach to China despite the perception of China as a menacing rising power, emitter of greenhouse gas, and patron of evil regimes the world over. There may be some truth to these perceptions but there’s also the need to understand what the Chinese would say to American criticisms.

Lets start with realism in international relations: The recent sanctions on Iran have only allowed the Chinese to get discounts on Iranian oil while still using the convenient intellectual cover of “not interfering in sovereign nations internal affairs”. In fact, “non-interference” has become China’s version of the Monroe Doctrine, the 19th century policy in which the U.S. opposed European intervention in Latin America in favor of an “open door”. China is in a similar position today: a rising power that has adeptly inserted its state companies into areas of the world like Africa that have long been hostile to the U.S. and “the West." What strategic reasons does China have to back sanctions when they can continue to receive the benefits of importing Iranian (and other nations’) oil and resources without any of the risks associated with supporting sanctions?

With regard to U.S.-China trade, China has no incentive to rapidly let the Yuan rise, as America desires. With already high unemployment (despite its booming GDP), China is worried of a global recession that could put more factory workers out of work. Why would China risk more unemployment in export-oriented factories at a time of uncertain global demand? The reality is that the Yuan will probably rise gradually in the foreseeable future. Also important is the way criticism of China’s trade practices by a wealthy nation is perceived in China, a country that despite its rapid growth still has about 128 million people living on a dollar a day or less.

China’s rise is here and we should get used to it. We should also get realistic about what we can expect the Chinese to do. Big pronouncements of displeasure are likely to be ineffective. We can get serious by looking at incentives and agreements on specific trade issues that could benefit the U.S., and more importantly, prioritize long-term economic growth through investment in education and infrastructure. We should also realize the hypocrisy of people in the business community like Mitt Romney, who profit from corporate outsourcing to China and elsewhere and then turn around to pretend that they are suddenly concerned about jobs at home.

Photo Credit: An Honorable German

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Andrew Stokols

A 2010 graduate in history and urban planning from the University of California, Berkeley. I have been living in China for the past year, first as a fellow at a Chinese non-profit involved in urban planning and historic preservation in Beijing. Now I am a Fulbright scholar based in Xi'an where I am studying urban and rural redevelopment and relocation. Although originally from southern California, I've never been on a surfboard and don't enjoy driving. I do enjoy snowboarding, reading, urban adventuring, Beijing duck, and photography, to name a few.

MORE FROM

New White House communications director Scaramucci says press briefings should be on-camera

If the new White House communications director gets his way, the press briefings could soon be recorded once again.

At least 8 dead, 30 injured in locked tractor trailer outside Walmart in Texas

Authorities told press that the deaths were caused by "a human trafficking crime."

Amid new revelations, here’s what we’ve learned about the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr.

The picture of Natalia Veselnitskaya is coming into clearer focus.

Republican Senator urges whoever leaked Russia/Sessions phone calls to release whole conversation

Sen. Chuck Grassley wants the person who leaked intelligence about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to come forward with more information.

Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort now to testify before Senate committee behind closed doors

Trump Jr. and Manafort have avoided a subpoena and will testify behind closed doors — for now.

Hope Hicks reportedly tried to rein Trump in during explosive ‘Times’ interview. It didn’t work.

The low-profile Trump Whisperer is one of the few in the president's orbit to enjoy job security.

New White House communications director Scaramucci says press briefings should be on-camera

If the new White House communications director gets his way, the press briefings could soon be recorded once again.

At least 8 dead, 30 injured in locked tractor trailer outside Walmart in Texas

Authorities told press that the deaths were caused by "a human trafficking crime."

Amid new revelations, here’s what we’ve learned about the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr.

The picture of Natalia Veselnitskaya is coming into clearer focus.

Republican Senator urges whoever leaked Russia/Sessions phone calls to release whole conversation

Sen. Chuck Grassley wants the person who leaked intelligence about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to come forward with more information.

Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort now to testify before Senate committee behind closed doors

Trump Jr. and Manafort have avoided a subpoena and will testify behind closed doors — for now.

Hope Hicks reportedly tried to rein Trump in during explosive ‘Times’ interview. It didn’t work.

The low-profile Trump Whisperer is one of the few in the president's orbit to enjoy job security.