September 18, 2012

How Americans See China

By Bruce Stokes, Director of Pew Global Economic Attitudes, Pew Research Center
Richard Wike, Associate Director, Pew Global Attitudes Project

Special to CNN

In meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao two months ago, President Barack Obama said: “Over the last several years…we have been able to really create a new model for practical and constructive and comprehensive relations between our two countries.” By early July, on the campaign trail in Ohio, he was touting his administration’s record for bringing “trade cases against China at a faster pace than the previous administration.” This was underscored by the Obama administration’s September 17 unfair trade case at the World Trade Organization against alleged Chinese subsidies of auto parts exports.

Meanwhile, the president’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has promised that on his first day in office he will issue an executive order branding China a currency manipulator, possibly triggering a trade war. However, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on February 16, he stated that “a trade war with China is the last thing I want,” and then backed away from the threatened executive order by saying that he would designate Beijing a currency manipulator “unless China changes its ways.”

The casual observer might be excused if he or she concluded that the candidates were presenting a mixed message about the China policy they would pursue if they win in November. This paradox may simply reflect the candidates’ efforts to reconcile the imperatives of campaigning versus the constraints of governing when confronted with sharply contrasting views of China.

Read the full commentary at CNN’s Global Public Square blog