China is not reeling from one crisis to another, while the United States struggles to find effective policy tools. China does not provide safe haven for terrorists and it did not trigger the global financial crisis. For the purposes of the presidential debate on foreign policy, that makes China appear a second tier issue.
Still, China may well pose a far more serious strategic challenge to the United States and the global system. Chinese officials have called for the world to move away from the dollar as its reserve currency, challenged U.S. notions of good governance throughout the world, and blocked U.S. initiatives to address crises in Syria and Iran. All of this makes China an issue of paramount importance for the presidential debate. Let’s hope that Mr. Schieffer can push the candidates to take the issue and the American people seriously enough to aim for profound rather than petty.
Romney adviser Aaron Friedberg makes the case against Obama's China policy:
Beijing continues to provide aid to repressive regimes in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Ignoring U.S. appeals, China joined with Russia to veto a UN resolution calling for tough sanctions against the Syrian regime. To judge from their most recent actions, the Chinese do not appear to be impressed by the "pivot." They have stepped up pressure on their maritime neighbors, while at the same time seeking to shift blame for heightened tensions onto others, including the United States and Japan.
Bill Bishop outlines what we can expect from Romney:
Expect harsh word from Mitt Romney about trade practices, the value of the renminbi, Chinese financing of the deficit and the need to increase military spending to strengthen the “pivot to Asia.” Mr. Romney may be right to complain about China’s structural trade barriers and intellectual property violations. The question is whether he is willing to undermine the World Trade Organization, through which the United States has won several victories against China, upend the global trading order and drive up prices for many of the goods Americans consume.
Ezra Klein explains why the one thing Romney will likely say – that he will brand China a "currency manipulator"- is an "out-of-date argument." Ezra fears that Romney's strategy could easily backfire:
China, at times, seems to run a pride-based foreign policy. If the rest of the world demands they do something, they simply refuse to do it. After all, it doesn’t look good to ordinary Chinese if China is permitting America to set its monetary policy. Thus, if you want to call China a “currency manipulator,” you need an explanation for why that’s a better strategy than the one we’re following, which has actually led to China permitting its currency to appreciate.
"Getting tough" is a posture, not a policy argument.