BEIJING - In the last of three rounds of the U.S. presidential debate, both candidates framed China as a partner for the first time, offering a speck of belated comfort as the country had been portrayed as a monetary cheat and a job thief in their previous face-offs.
In the Oct. 22 finale, the two candidates began to show a bit of companionship by stopping short of vilifying China 100 percent, as Barack Obama admitted, "China is both an adversary but also a potential partner," and Mitt Romney, fond of bashing China, said, "We can be a partner with China. We don't have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form."
A few relieving words, however, are quickly overshadowed by traditional campaign tricks of scapegoating and ill-grounded hypotheses. The U.S. president-in-waiting, no matter who is elected, lacks deep understanding of how partners should treat each other.
The two candidates are still competing to flex their muscles on China. Romney repeated his threat to designate China a currency manipulator and punish it for intellectual property theft, while Obama continued to parade his "trophy" achievements while in office: doubling US exports to China, the most advantageous exchange rates to American business since 1993, and a special task force focusing on trade.
They have relentlessly blamed China to cover up their own inabilities to put the domestic economy on track, regardless of the truth. The tactic only serves to reveal that the world's superpower, indeed or temporarily, is running out of ways to sort out the real problems.
Bashing China is a much easier and more convenient foil to score political gains.