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5 Jun, 2012

China-Bashing U.S. Politicians “Playing A Foolish Game”

Chen Weihua (China Daily)

Beijing (1 June 2012) – People in China get upset by the China-bashing rhetoric of people like Mitt Romney, who won the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday, or the celebrity businessman, Donald Trump.

But is it worth getting angry at their crowd-pleasing antics? I think it is better just to ignore them.

Even the conservative political columnist George Will has dismissed Trump. Commenting over the weekend on Romney and Trump, Will said: “Donald Trump is redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your IQ can be very low and you can still intrude into American politics.”

Some US journalists believe that TV stations invite Trump on their programs simply to show how ridiculous he is. And if that is the case, why should we take it seriously when Trump screams – “China is ripping off the United States”?

The same is true of Romney and many other American politicians. On the sidelines of a recent seminar hosted by the National Committee on US-China Relations, I asked former US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman why he endorses Romney whose China policy he totally disagrees with.

Huntsman’s action reminded people that he supports Romney for the sake of his own political career, he said that he is not sure if Romney has fully articulated his China policy yet. In Huntsman’s eyes, what we have heard from Romney so far is simply campaign rhetoric.

That also includes Romney’s article in the Wall Street Journal in mid February, titled “How I’ll Respond to China’s Rising Power”, where he threatened a trade war with China and described President Barack Obama as a near supplicant to Beijing.

Even Huntsman then described Romney’s China policy as outlined in this article as “wrongheaded”.

“When it comes to China, I think it’s wrongheaded to suggest slapping a tariff on day one. That pushes aside the reality, the complexity of the relationship It’s much easier to talk about China in terms of the fear factor than the opportunity factor,” he said.

At the recent seminar, Huntsman described what happened onstage during the Republican presidential debate as an example.

In the far corner of the stage, one candidate said,’as president, I would declare war on China.’ The crowd went carzy.”

The next candidate said that when he became president he would slap tariffs on China. There was a round of applause after this. However, when Huntsman tried to explain the reality of the relationship, there was no applause, no cheering.

The really painful moment came when former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean asked Huntsman at the meeting to name the people in Congress who understand the relationship Huntsman was talking about, and even more importantly those who are willing to move the relationship forward in an intelligent way.

Huntsman felt hard pressed to name even a few. In his eyes, politicians find it easier to portray China as the bogeyman for political leverage, especially during an election.

He was quite upset by politicians distorting the relationship and pandering to the public’s prejudices in this way. But his own unwillingness to cater to the popular perception in the US of China as a threat cut short his own campaign.

Huntsman’s suggestion is a bottom-up model that would make the China-US relationship more relevant to ordinary people in the US. Until that happens, politicians in the US will continue to be cheered whenever they resort to China bashing.

The author, based in New York, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. Email: chenweihua@chinadaily.com.cn