U.S.-China Relations Post-Election

Dec 10, 2012

The 2012 U.S. presidential election was marked by the two candidates — the incumbent Democrat Barack Obama and the Republican challenger Mitt Romney — competing over who would be tougher on China if elected. What does Obama’s return to the White House portend for U.S.-China economic relations? The U.S. public wants Washington to ratchet up the pressure on Beijing, but history suggests that there are geo-political constraints to doing so.

European, U.S., and Chinese observers of the U.S.-China relationship may wonder whether commitments made in the heat of a presidential election really matter once a candidate becomes president. In general, they do. One of President Obama’s unbroken pledges in his first term was to be tougher on China than George W. Bush, and over the last four years the Obama administration has filed more trade cases against China than his predecessor.

Thus it is reasonable to assume that Obama will continue to press China on economic and trade issues, especially when buttressed by the support of the U.S. public. However, experience suggests a more cautionary conclusion. For at least the last three decades, whenever the U.S. position as the world’s economic and strategic hegemon has been threatened, U.S. presidents and presidential candidates have promised to face down the foreign challenger: first Japan and now China.

Read the full article, U.S.-China Relations Post-Election, on the Pew Research Center website.

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