Threats of Chinese ‘trade war’ turn focus of economic debate outward

David Martosko Executive Editor
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HANOVER, N.H. -– In a segment of Tuesday night’s Republican economic debate that looked beyond U.S. borders, candidates traded jabs about the role of China in determining America’s economic situation. With Mitt Romney asserting that previous presidents had been “played like a fiddle” by China, and Rick Santorum all but declaring war on the Chinese economy, that Asian country’s presence was felt from half a world away.

In a video clip shown to attendees of the Bloomberg/Washington Post debate in Spaulding Auditorium on the campus of Dartmouth College, Romney called China “a currency manipulator” and said as president he would “go after them for stealing our intellectual property… I certainly don’t want a trade war with anybody. We aren’t going to have a trade war, but we can’t have a trade surrender either.”

This set the tone for an exchange involving former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who served as President Obama’s ambassador to China.

“I don’t subscribe to the Don Trump school or the Mitt Romney school of international trade,” Huntsman jabbed. “I don’t want to find ourselves in a trade war. With respect to China, if you start slapping penalties on them… you are going to get the same thing in return.”

“We have got to find more market opening measures” in China, Huntsman said. “We have got to get more governors from this country together with governors from provinces of China, mayors together with mayors, and exploit the opportunities that exist for exporters. That is a job creator in this country.”

Romney, asked why voters should believe he would have better luck battling the Chinese than past presidents, said “people who have looked at this in the past have been played like a fiddle by the Chinese. And the Chinese are smiling all the way to the bank, taking our currency and taking our jobs and taking a lot of our future. And I am not willing to let that happen.”

Romney offered specifics for what he hopes will be his inauguration day in 2013.

“I will issue an executive order identifying China as a currency manipulator. We’ll bring an action against them in front of the WTO for manipulating their currency, and we will go after them. 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,” Romney said.

Rick Perry and Rick Santorum took time out of later statements to jump into the discussion about China.

“We brought key manufacturing [jobs] that had business in China back to the state of Texas,” Perry said, talking up his own credentials. “You free up this country’s entrepreneurs, where they know that they can’t risk their capital and have a chance to have a return on investment, and all of this conversation that we’re having today becomes substantially less impacting.”

Santorum, eager to establish his relevance on this largest of all political stages, upped the ante.

“You know, Mitt,” he said in response to the former Massachusetts governor, “I don’t want to go to a trade war. I want to beat China.

“I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business.”

David is The Daily Caller’s executive editor and a Dartmouth alumnus. Follow him on Twitter