McCain, Obama Outline Their China Policies

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 9/16/2008 08:38:00 AM
Here is an important story buried in the rubble from the subprime mess: the American Chamber of Commerce in China recently invited US presidential candidates John McCain (R-AZ) and Barack Obama (D-IL) to discuss their policy stances towards China. Indeed, were it not for China financing America in recent times, it is arguable that the global political economy wouldn't be as it is at present--for better or worse. Given the caveat that the audience for McBama here is the PRC AmCham, which you would expect to be interested in largely unfettered US-China trade, it is still surprising that many talking points of these candidates contrast where you would expect them to contrast. McCain highlights "win-win" possibilities from trade, whereas Obama highlights--you guessed it--a "level playing field."

Let us begin with McCain, more or less the standard-issue free-trader here. After reiterating the mutual benefits possible from trade, he goes into painting Obama as a protectionist / isolationist (is that redundant?)
A central challenge will be getting America’s relationship with China right. China’s double-digit growth rates have brought hundreds of millions out of poverty, energized the economies of its neighbors and produced manifold new economic opportunities. The US shares common interests with China that can form the basis of a strong partnership on issues of global concern, including climate change, trade and proliferation. But some of China’s economic practices, combined with its rapid military modernization, lack of political freedom and close relations with regimes like Sudan and Burma, tend to undermine the very international system on which its rise depends. The next American president must build on the areas of overlapping interest to forge a more durable US-China relationship.

It must be a priority of the next American president to expand America’s economic relationships in Asia. Unfortunately, in what has become an all-too-predictable pattern, some American politicians—including the Democratic candidate for president—are preying on the fears stoked by Asia’s dynamism; rather than encouraging American innovation and entrepreneurship, they instead propose throwing up protectionist walls that will leave us all worse off. The United States has never won respect or created jobs by retreating from free trade, and we cannot start doing so now.
McCain then goes into somewhat tougher rhetoric on the need for China to become a responsible stakeholder in the world economy given its growing clout. Also, McCain highlights the commercial opportunities in China for American firms:
China has obligations as well. Its commitment to open markets must include enforcement of international trade rules, protecting intellectual property, lowering manufacturing tariffs and fulfillment of its commitment to move to a market-determined currency. The next administration should be clear about where China needs to make progress, hold it to its commitments through enforcement at the World Trade Organization and enforce US trade and product safety laws. Doing so will help steer the process of China’s economic integration with the world to ensure that it is a fair, two-way street. And the US should continually expand opportunities as China develops, moving into retail ventures, environmental protection, health, education, financial and other services.
Meanwhile, Obama is more critical overall of China even if the PRC AmCham is his audience. Oddly, he starts by meandering for eight paragraphs on domestic policy and regional issues before homing in on China. In this context, some cut-and-paste bonhomies designed to please a domestic audience may not be so well-received. Obama goes:
I know that America and the world can benefit from trade with China, but only if China agrees to play by the rules and act as a positive force for balanced world growth. I want China’s economy to continue to grow, its domestic demand to expand and its vitality to contribute to regional and global prosperity. But China’s current growth is unbalanced, and in recent years domestic consumption has actually gone down as a percentage of GDP. To increase internal demand Beijing will have to improve substantially its social safety net and upgrade its financial services sector to bring its consumption in line with international norms. [Dear Obama speechwriter: what exactly are the "international norms" of consumption?]

Central to any rebalancing of our economic relationship with China must be change in its currency practices. Because it pegs its currency at an artificially low rate, China is running massive current account surpluses. This is not good for American firms and workers, not good for the world, and ultimately likely to produce inflation problems in China itself.

As President, I will use all the diplomatic avenues available to seek a change in China’s currency practices. I will also undertake more sustained and serious efforts to combat intellectual property piracy in China, and to address regulations that discriminate against foreign investments in major sectors and other unfair trading practices. And I will work with the Chinese government to establish a better system for both countries to monitor products produced for export and act when dangerous products are identified.

As President, I will take a vigorous, pragmatic approach to addressing these issues, utilizing our domestic trade remedy laws as well as the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism wherever appropriate. High-level dialogue among economic leaders in both countries is also important to achieving real progress. My approach to our economic relationship is positive and forward-looking: to remove obstructions to gaining the benefits of trade and thus to enable faster, and healthier, growth in both economies.
The rebalancing bit I do appreciate, but the belligerent tone Obama adopts later on is questionable given his audience.

Do read the relatively short essays for yourselves. In addition, there is the usual bashing of China's human rights record, its suppression of personal freedoms, and its support for unsavoury regimes. However, I don't take these points seriously for (1) someone named Clinton also called China on them but proceeded to do little but push for China's further trade integration and (2) the US isn't exactly a model country in these respects. If the US couldn't get anything done when its global standing was far better, then its current subprime-infested iteration is unlikely to do any better.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention this--for what's it's worth, Obama is one of 12 senators who are part of the "Congressional China Currency Action Coalition." In the past, it has sought to apply Super 301 sanctions on China. Others are Senators Schumer, Graham, and Stabenow.