Robert Keatley

The Obama-Romney discussion about China policy was both incomplete and disappointing.

Both candidates emphasized trade problems, admittedly important because Beijing does give its own state-controlled companies great advantages in discriminatory ways. But neither explained that U.S. involvement with the world’s second-largest economy also includes such diverse issues as Somali piracy, nuclear proliferation and cybersecurity, plus much more. Nor did either note that Beijing’s responses sometimes are wholly cooperative and not merely obstructive.

Instead, their single-minded concentration on trade left the impression that the mutual connections—probably the most important relationship that America has with any nation—are mostly commercial and confrontational, which they are not. Beyond that, Romney’s insistence on labeling China a “currency manipulator” was off the mark—that issue has lost relevance in recent years and no longer is a major cause of the trade imbalance. And there is no way Romney, nor anyone, can bring back lost low-wage jobs making T-shirts, producing running shoes or putting together the tiny bits that go into consumer electronics.

Finally, neither candidate noted that China soon will have new leaders in place and that wise American policy makers might test their intentions before introducing tough measures certain to aggravate them.

Robert Keatley is a former editor of The Asian Wall Street Journal and the South China Morning Post, both of Hong Kong.

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