Campaign rhetoric will have limited impact on relations with China, says paper

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The 2012 presidential election showed that U.S. citizens respond to calls for increased economic pressure on China but geopolitical constraints will limit that political rhetoric from becoming reality, says the Pew Research Center.

In a Dec. 10 paper, Director of Pew Global Economic Attitudes Bruce Stokes says that economic and trade comments made during the presidential election typically have an impact on a president's actions. Stokes notes that President Obama lived up to a first-term campaign pledge to be tougher on China than President George W. Bush by filing more trade cases against China than his predecessor. These are expected to continue throughout his second term.

Stokes says Obama will continue to press China on these issues "especially when buttressed by the support of the U.S. public," but says economic imperatives can successfully push back against campaign pledges.

Stokes points to Bill Clinton's 1992 heated campaign rhetoric against Japan and China, after which the Clinton administration did not in fact pursue a major trade case against Japan over its auto policy because of global financial risks and ended up championing China's entry into the World Trade Organization.

In a 2012 Pew Global Attitudes survey, 68 percent of Americans characterize China as untrustworthy and 49 percent think it is important to get tougher on China. Democrats are concerned with the trade imbalance but have less negative sentiments about China. This may give Obama more flexibility in foreign policy, especially if China's economy shifts more toward domestic consumption, Stokes says.

Stokes says the Obama administration is unlikely to label China a currency manipulator, something Mitt Romney said throughout the campaign he would do. So labeling China would add tension over the growing direct investment China has in the United States, already a wild card factor in U.S.-Sino bilateral relations.

For more:
- read the Pew paper

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