Passport

How do the Chinese feel when Romney calls them cheaters?

A day after denouncing President Obama for his handling of attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, Mitt Romney appears to be changing the subject. During a campaign stop in Virginia on Thursday, the Republican candidate veered away from the controversial critique, focusing on foreign-policy issues such as China instead.

Accusing Beijing of decimating American manufacturing by undervaluing its currency, Romney declared that he'll "call [the Chinese] on the carpet" if they continue to "cheat." Obama "had the chance year after year to label China a currency manipulator, but he hasn't done so," Romney added. "And I will label China the currency manipulator they are on the first day."

The Romney campaign complemented the speech with a new ad accusing Obama of "failing to stop cheating" by ceding manufacturing ground to China (the Obama campaign quickly shot off a press release pointing to manufacturing job growth since 2010 and the administration's seven trade complaints against China). At one point in the spot, Romney passionately tells a small audience on a factory floor that "it's time to stand up to the cheaters." 

All of this makes me wonder: How are the Chinese, who are gearing up for their own leadership transition this fall, responding to all this cheating talk?

It turns out they don't care very much. And when they do, they don't see as much of a difference between the two candidates as you might think. After all, as a candidate in 2008 Obama bashed Beijing for manipulating its currency and accused George W. Bush of being a "patsy" in his trade negotiations with China. As Bloomberg's Adam Minter recently put it in an entertaining look at Chinese impressions of the U.S. election, Romney is "boiled cabbage next to Obama's boiled chicken." 

China-bashing, many Chinese news outlets argue, has simply become par for the course in U.S. elections. Romney may be trying to "curry favor with hard right-wing elements in the Republican Party" with his proposals on China, a recent op-ed in the state-run China Daily noted, but the Chinese people, "have become inured to such campaign talk from American politicians. Since the end of the Cold War, both Democratic and Republican politicians have cited former US policies toward China in attempts to rake up unsavory parts of each other's pasts." The campaign rhetoric is "just meant to win votes and would prove disastrous if pursued," the writer adds.

An editorial late last month in the state-run Global Times -- entitled, "U.S. election pick barely matters for China" -- is even more dismissive and aggressive:

[Romney] has attracted less attention from the Chinese public than previous candidates. In the recent few days, Chinese media has focused on a fleeing official and the inappropriate behavior of a security supervisor at the site of a traffic accident.

To China, the US matters less than before. Even though the majority of Chinese think the US intends to contain China and are worried about potential confrontation between the two sides, but the worry hasn't generated much apprehension.

Chinese increasingly believe the biggest challenge for the country comes from within. Washington cannot easily threaten us. Any move of the US against China will be responded to accordingly.

So far, I'm not seeing much coverage of Romney's new ad in the Chinese press. Then again, I suppose that's not surprising.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Passport

The week Europe turned a corner?

With the events in North Africa and the Middle East this week, it's been easy to miss major developments North of the Mediterranean. First, there was some news out of Germany: 

Germany's supreme court has rejected petitions to block ratification of Europe's $640-billion rescue fund, giving the go-ahead for a key element of European leaders' strategy for combating the continent's long-running debt crisis.

The constitutional court was petitioned by 37,000 Germans who argued that the European Stability Mechanism, or ESM, contravened the country's constitution.

In what was viewed as one of the most important decisions in the court's 61-year history, the justices dismissed the petitions but imposed some significant conditions on the use of the ESM, namely a limit to Germany's liabilities.

The decision will allow the European Central Bank to buy bonds from countries like Italy and Spain that are struggling with high interest rates. Chancellor Angela Merkel has backed ECB Chief Mario Draghi's bond-bying plan. Jacob Heilbrunn sees this as a sign of Germany returning to its historic role as a European hegemon, a development that should at least make George Soros happy.

Yesterday also saw an electoral victory for pro-European parties in an election in the Netherlands, seen as a bellwether for European public opinion:

Prime Minister Mark Rutte claimed victory for his liberal VVD party. Centre-left Labour came a close second. Both parties performed better than predicted, seeking a pan-European solution to the eurozone crisis.

Dutch voters returned to parties of the centre, following recent elections which produced highly fragmented results and multi-party coalitions.

(In a week where religious conflict was topic A, it also seemed telling that Geert Wilders' Freedom Party lost nine seats.)

Taken together, the week's events seemed to indicate that, for better or worse, Europe's leaders and citizens are intent on keeping the eurozone together. What they do to fix it is another question.