China a punching bag for US lawmakers

WASHINGTON: China is once again the country Congress loves to hate. After a lull last year, US politicians jockeying ahead of crucial November elections have stepped up attacks on China as a way to win support from voters worried that the Asian power is taking American jobs.

China-bashing eased during President Barack Obama’s first year in office, partly as a nod to the administration’s attempts to get Chinese help settling nuclear standoffs with North Korea and Iran and important environmental and economic initiatives.

Now, with little to show from Obama’s charm offensive and a looming make-or-break election, lawmakers want tough action against what manufacturers say is a Chinese currency policy that hurts millions of American workers by making Chinese products cheaper and US products more expensive.

US-China ties are already battered following the recent announcement of a multibillion dollar US arms sale to Chinese rival Taiwan and a meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama. Attacks on China might add more irritation to a relationship the White House portrays as the world’s most important, and most complicated. US politicians, however,

have calculated that raising China as an economic boogeyman can help them connect with voters afraid of losing work to foreign competitors.

“They take our markets and take our jobs,” Democratic Sen Arlen Specter said of China when he confronted Obama at a public meeting last month. Specter, who is in a tough primary race in the industrial state of Pennsylvania, said

Chinese subsidies and what he called dumping are “a form of international banditry.” China bristles at US complaints. Wang Baodong, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said his country’s currency policies “are above blame.” He urged Americans to make a “fair and objective assessment on this and not mix things up with domestic politics.”

The Chinese Embassy has expressed confidence that its lobbying efforts can help US lawmakers recognize that the two countries have common interests more important than their divisions.

In tough economic times, US lawmakers often lock onto a foreign country they can blame. In the 1980s and 90s, it was Japan. Over the last decade, China has become a reliable punching bag, especially during election season. As China continues to boom and America continues to hurt, the congressional urge to punish Beijing will grow.

“There’s nothing off limits when election-time comes around, and China makes themselves an easy target,” Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank, said.

Lawmakers have called on Obama to probe China’s currency practices and have advocated penalty on Chinese imports if Beijing doesn’t make changes.