September 21, 2012

How China became the US election bogeyman

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

Special to BBC News

American fears about China’s economic strength have fed into the US presidential election campaign – shaping public fears in some surprising ways, according to new research.

Foreign rivals have long been used as foils in US elections.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Japan played the role of bogeyman. Tokyo’s rising trade surplus with Washington came to symbolise fears of declining American competitiveness. And US presidential candidates vied with each other over who could be tougher on the Japanese.

In the 2012 American election, China has become the test of presidential resolve. Both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney have pledged to ratchet up the pressure on Beijing.

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. And on 17 September, the Obama administration filed an unfair trade case at the World Trade Organization against alleged Chinese subsidies of auto parts exports.

There are substantive reasons for this. China accounts for 40% of the record US merchandise trade deficit. But the political rationale for such actions and promises is also clear.

Read the full commentary at BBC News