China Bashing Season Over, But Frictions Will Persist

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Although bashing China, especially by the candidate trying to unseat the incumbent, has become a feature of nearly every US presidential campaign of the past 20 years, Romney's criticism was particularly intense. Moreover, the Republican Party has changed noticeably over that time, with the role of religious conservatives becoming more prominent and the role of business leaders less so. That shift made it even more likely that a Romney administration would have adopted a hard-line, if not outright confrontational, stance toward Beijing.

Obama's re-election makes such a stance less likely. However, complacency about the bilateral relationship is unwarranted and could prove dangerous. During Obama's nearly four years in office the US has taken a number of measures that Chinese leaders and the Chinese people could interpret as less than friendly. During his re-election campaign he highlighted his decisions to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese tires and to file complaints with the World Trade Organization over alleged unfair subsidies on auto parts and other products. One of the congressional leaders seeking to impose penalties on China for its supposed currency manipulation is Charles Schumer, a close ally of Obama in the US Senate.

The administration's conduct on security issues has not been especially friendly toward China either. Despite Beijing's objections, Washington approved another arms-sale package to Taiwan, including upgrades to F-16 fighter jets. The timing of that decision was unhelpful, given that tensions between the mainland and Taiwan had noticeably diminished since the election of Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan's leader in 2008.

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