Obama vs. Romney 101: 4 ways they differ on China

China surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy during the Obama presidency. Over the same period, its increased military spending and aggressive actions in the South China Sea have suggested a desire to match economic growth with enhanced regional and world-power status.

As president, Barak Obama has made a strategic “pivot” toward Asia. He envisions enhancing America’s role as a Pacific power while expanding cooperation with China in hopes of seeing it emerge as a responsible global power. Mitt Romney, who promises to make this “an American century,” speaks more about confronting a power whose interests and values often clash with the US.

Here is how they differ on China's currency manipulation, its status as an economic rival, its regional flash points, and human rights.

1. China as currency manipulator

Evan Vucci/AP
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop at LeClaire Manufacturing on Aug. 22 in Bettendorf, Iowa

Mr. Romney says China’s leaders are “cheaters” who keep their currency artificially low to make Chinese products cheaper on the world market. He says that on “Day 1” of a Romney presidency, he would declare China a currency manipulator – a step the US has not taken since 1994, but which would pave the way to imposing duties on Chinese products. The US trade deficit with China amounted to nearly $300 billion in 2011.

Obama has resisted demands from both Democrats and Republicans to make the “manipulator” designation, which he says could set off a trade war. Instead, he claims that steady diplomatic pressure has worked better. The administration’s evidence? China’s currency has risen by almost a third against the dollar since 2005, helping to raise Chinese labor and manufacturing costs.

This may be a rare issue where American business aligns more closely with Obama. The US Chamber of Commerce opposes a “manipulator” designation as unnecessary. But Romney’s get-tough position could win him points in some manufacturing swing states where anti-China sentiment runs strong.

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