Sunday, October 16, 2011

China-bashing:Good Politics, Bad Consequences

The Wall Street Journal's Bob Davis explains in must-read column what some of us have known for a while now: poll-driven attacks on China may score some cheap political points, but they also have some really nasty consequences. The entire item is well worth your time, but here are some key sections:
One Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, has propelled China into the center of the contest by accusing it of "cheating," and by threatening to shut down U.S. markets to Chinese goods unless China lets its currency appreciate significantly. President Barack Obama has attacked Beijing for "gaming the trading system."

The Senate last week overwhelmingly passed legislation to penalize China for its currency policy, through trade sanctions. Unless the House Republican leadership continues to block a vote, the legislation would likely pass the House by a huge margin, as a similar bill did last year.

The debate has become so heated that Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman, a former U.S. ambassador to China, said he backs the Senate bill even though he warns that "slapping penalties" on China could ignite a trade war.

Much of this can be dismissed as election-year posturing. Every president finds that the U.S. has limited options in getting China, the world's second-largest economy and the U.S.'s largest foreign creditor, to adopt market-oriented change. The trick is to get Beijing to see the reform as in its interest, and even then the pace of change is slow....

But political threats, even if they don't become law or policy, have consequences in Beijing and can backfire in ways that Americans may not appreciate. Beijing is in the throes of its own 2012 leadership change, with top politicians jockeying for power. There's no election, but public opinion matters. Being seen as close to the U.S. at a time when Washington threatens to whack Beijing is as much a burden for a Chinese politician as being a pal of China would be for an American candidate campaigning in Cleveland.

Cheng Li, a Brookings Institution China scholar, says the threats from Washington have already hurt a U.S. favorite, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, who is viewed as having an outside shot at becoming Chinese premier, the No. 2 position in China. Mr. Wang has argued that China needs to rely more on domestic consumption rather than exports—precisely the U.S. position.

A backlash against U.S. threats could help Bo Xilai, the nationalist party secretary of Chonqqing, a city that recently shut down 13 Wal-Marts for allegedly selling mislabeled pork. Shutting down a supermarket for such a common infraction is unusual.

He's aiming for a slot on the standing committee of the Politburo. "You're hurting economic policy makers that have strong ties to the U.S," Mr. Li said. "It puts them in an awkward position."...
So American politicians' China demagoguery not only is smarmy politics, bad economics and questionable law, but also could end up slowing reforms in China and pushing sympathetic Chinese politicians from power.

But other than that...

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