Mitt Romney to China: “You want a trade war?”

“You think they want to have a trade war? If you are not willing to stand up to China, you will get run over by China, and that’s what’s happened for 20 years,” Mitt Romney – US presidential candidate

With six months to go before the United States elects a new president – or reinstates a sitting president – it’s worth considering what China policy could be expected under a Romney presidency. Mitt Romney is the former Governor of Massachusetts and the former CEO of Bain Capital. He is the “last man standing” in the Republican race and is certain to be endorsed as the party’s candidate at its convention in Tampa Bay in late August. 

Central to Romney’s campaign is his free book: Believe In America: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth. This outlines a 59 point plan to restore America’s economic health. One core element of that is a confrontational approach to China:

“China presents a broad set of problems that cry out urgently for solutions. It is time to end the Obama administration’s acquiescence to the one-way arrangementsthe Chinese have come to enjoy. We need a fresh and fearless approach to thattrade relationship. Our first priority must be to put on the table all unilateral actions within our power to ensure that the Chinese adhere to existing agreements. Anyone with business experience knows that you can succeed in a negotiation only if youare willing to walk away. If we want the Chinese to play by the rules, we must be willing to say “no more” to a relationship that too often benefits them and harms us. (Page 43)

The threat of sanctions and retaliatory measures signals Romney would be willing to undertake a trade war with China. This is a “go for the votes” heart strings pull that is bound to resonate in jobless blue collar states. Yet to many this is likely to backfire just at a time when China’s markets are slowly opening. During her recent visit, Clinton succeeded in allowing greater banking and auto financing access for American firms in China.

 “Romney’s China Blunder” – The Wall Street Journal editorial page

Talking tough is an election year tactic. Aside from that, Romney usually veered towards free market approaches, especially when leading an aggressive investment firm. The firm he ran – and his family trust – have holdings in Uniview Technologies – a large supplier of video surveillance equipment to the government of China.  This allows central monitoring of universities, hospitals, parks, streets and more.

It may be better for Romney to wait. This quote at the weekend is the most telling:

 “Romney doesn’t want to really engage these issues until he is in office,”  said a senior adviser this weekend.

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