President Obama, Mitt Romney square off over China

1:07 PM, Sep 17, 2012   |    comments
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By David Jackson, USA TODAY

CINCINNATI -- President Obama visited Ohio again today to talk tough about China -- and about Mitt Romney.

Mocking Romney's claim that "he's going to roll up his sleeves, and he's going to take the fight to China," Obama announced a new trade complaint against the Chinese, and sought to link his Republican rival to companies that outsource jobs overseas.

"You can't stand up to China when all you've done is send them our jobs," Obama told backers in a park near downtown Cincinnati. "You can talk a good game, but I like to walk the walk."

Romney and aides called the new trade complaint -- over Chinese subsidies to its auto parts industry -- a politically motivated act designed to appeal to the pivotal state of Ohio.

Obama "spent 43 months failing to confront China's unfair trade practices," Romney said in a statement, "and his recent actions are too little, too late for American businesses and middle-class families."

Romney added: "I will not wait until the last months of my presidency to stand up to China, or do so only when votes are at stake."

Campaign aides also pointed out that no Romney company ever shipped jobs overseas when he ran the private equity firm Bain Capital. Spokesman Ryan Williams said Obama "is recycling false and debunked attacks" in order to cover his "record of fewer jobs, more debt, and lower incomes."

Making his 12th visit to Ohio this year -- and the 28th of his presidency -- Obama said his new complaint with the World Trade Organization concerns "illegal subsidies" the Chinese government gives its auto supplies, giving them an advantage over U.S. exports.

"We've brought more trade cases against China in one term than the previous administration did in two," Obama told the crowd at Eden Park in Cincinnati. "And every case that we brought that's been decided we've won."

For its part, the government of China announced a new trade complaint against the United States, protesting anti-dumping measures against Chinese goods that include kitchen appliances, magnets and paper.

Chris Maloney, a spokesman for the Romney campaign in Ohio, noted this is the second time in three months that the Obama administration has announced a major trade case against China during a campaign visit to this crucial election state. He said, "the Obama administration's governing philosophy seems to be based on "whichever way the battleground state poll numbers are looking."

Obama aides pointed out they have brought nine WTO complaints against China, throughout the course of the presidency.

David Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Akron, said the China card plays into another big Ohio issue: The auto bailout that Obama has also touted. Car makers and other manufacturers believe that "China is stealing jobs through unfair trade practices," he said.

Members of Obama's audience at the amphitheater nestled in the woods of Eden Park welcomed Obama's message on China.

Kim Durgan, 54, a retired auto worker, said "this is a big deal" in Ohio, because "we get a lot of Chinese imports." She said, "any strong union person" would be more supportive of a get-tough policy with China.
For months, Romney and aides have argued that Obama has avoided confronting China over unfair trade policies.

The Romney campaign last week released an ad in Ohio accusing Obama of ignoring unfair trade practices by the Middle Kingdom. "In 2008, candidate Obama promised to take China 'to the mat,'" the ad said. "But since then, he's let China run all over us."

In Cincinnati, Obama spoke at length about his record on China and trade.

His administration has also set up a task force "to aggressively go after unfair trade practices that harm our workers -- and it's already delivering.

"Two months ago, we moved to hold China accountable for unfair trade practices that harm American automakers," Obama said. "Today, my Administration is launching a new action against China -- this one against illegal subsidies that encourage companies to ship auto parts manufacturing jobs overseas."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a key supporter of Romney, said he will probably support the WTO complaint, but Obama is not addressing the "broader issues" with respect to China, including currency manipulation.

"The difference between the two campaigns is that Mitt Romney thinks we should be tough on China," Portman said.

Portman, noting that he also brought WTO action against China when he was U.S. Trade Representative for President George W. Bush, also cited the timing of Obama's announcement, seven weeks before the election.

"He's using a political platform to talk about a WTO case," Portman said. "It's obviously being done in the context of a political campaign."


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