Martin McCauley writes from Tampa: Well there you have it: Mitt Romney has won the primaries in Florida convincingly, dashing Newt Gingrich’s hopes of gaining the Republican presidential nomination. Although the latter has insisted that whatever happens in Florida, he would go on fighting all the way up to the National Convention. Very doubtful that, but time will show.
Still, what is interesting is that both men have been attacking President Barack Obama over his policy towards China. Romney accused him of being soft on the Middle Kingdom, identifying China as America’s greatest challenge in the 21st century. Mind you, you don’t really need to be Sherlock Holmes to work that one out.
So what does Romney suggest? He says America must ‘stand up’ to China, that Beijing is manipulating its currency to the disadvantage of the US dollar, that Chinese exporters are subsidised and so on. In other words, the country is an unfair competitor and this has cost America millions of jobs. Great stuff if you live in Detroit and are unemployed.
Gingrich is even more cataclysmic. If China’s overtakes America economically it would be a ‘catastrophe’ for everyone, he says. Sinister promises of taking a tough stance against China are made. When the economy is down some people love to hear that it’s not their fault but that of some foreigners.
Romney has already promised that on his first day in office he would label China a currency manipulator. Democrats maintain that this would start a trade war with America coming out as the the loser. Business is split on this. Those who import from China, such as Wal-Mart, want a stable relationship and no confrontation. Those manufacturers that cannot compete with the Chinese want tough measures to make life easier for them.
President Obama is weak on international trade. When he had assumed office in 2008, he promised to take a tough line on China. In reality, he backed away from confrontation. His last trip to Beijing proved that he was reluctant to take on the Chinese while his host radiated confidence. With over $3 trillion in reserves and a booming economy, the Chinese think they can swat away any criticisms.
There’s no doubt that China will present a formidable challenge to US military hegemony in the future. Romney has not stoked up American fears about the Chinese security threat, not yet at least. This is because the American public is more concerned with bread and butter issues such as jobs and declining living standards.
Bashing the Chinese is now a major sport in the US. It will win Romney votes from those who are out of work because of Chinese competition. However, it will not solve the country’s ills. Romney fears that China will forge an alliance of authoritarian states to take on the US. How should America respond? Revive its economy and ensure that it has military hegemony. A tall order.