China (and Tibet) in the presidential debate

On Monday, October 22, 2012, in Recent, US Government, by Todd Stein

Tonight, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney square off in their third and final debate. The focus is foreign policy.

An entire 15-minute segment in the third and final presidential debate on October 22 is scheduled to be dedicated to “The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World.” This provides the opportunity to hear from the candidates on how they would approach China, in a broad policy sense, over the next four years.

“While there has been plenty of talk of China in the 2012 campaigns, we remember the trend wherein “China bashing” on the campaign trail (reflecting the mood of the American public’s continued concern with Chinese Government’s attitude) tends to soften once the candidate takes office. Recall Governor Bill Clinton’s accusing George H.W Bush of “coddling dictators” in 1992, yet giving China normalized trade status by 2000.

This year, China has served as a tool rather than a focus of the talk. Each candidate has used China as an instrument to criticize the economic policies of the other.  Challenger Romney has called the Chinese “cheaters” and said that he would label China a currency manipulator on “day one,” claiming that he would take tough action where incumbent Obama hasn’t.

The Obama campaign has cited Romney’s time running Bain Capital to claim that he facilitated the outsourcing of American jobs to China, implying that such practice would take place under a Romney Administration.

Unfortunately, none of this back and forth has delved into the wider and deeper aspects of the complex and evolving U.S. relationship with the People’s Republic of China. It would be refreshing and informative to hear the candidates address these questions:

  • Can China be a reliable partner on global issues as long as the Chinese Communist Party maintains one-party rule?
  • Should the U.S. do more to promote democratic reform?
  • Should the U.S. impose consequences for the Chinese government’s failure to respect the human rights of its citizens?
  • How should the U.S. respond to China’s territorial ambitions and growing influence to its east, south and west?
  • What can the U.S. do to promote a durable solution for Tibet?

On this last point, to get a sense of the candidates’ approach to the Tibet issue, ICT sent their campaigns the 2012 Tibet questionnaire, as ICT has done in every presidential election since 2000. We received a response from the Obama campaign, which is reprinted on our 2012 campaign page. As the incumbent, President Obama’s Administration has a long record of statements on Tibet.

For Mitt Romney, we have no indication of his position on Tibet. Despite several avenues of outreach over 11 months, we have not received a response from his campaign to the Tibet questionnaire.

We also sent the Tibet questionnaire to the campaigns of Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.  We received acknowledgment from their staff that they had received the questionnaire, but have not yet received a response from either.

It’s not too late to urge the campaigns to respond to the  Tibet questionnaire. Our campaign page gives you tips for how to contact the campaigns via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.

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