In the GOP, Romney is not alone. Jon Huntsman Jr., the former U.S. ambassador in Beijing, has vowed to open China’s markets to U.S. products, working through local officials. Former senator Rick Santorum, referring to the economic challenge, declared, “I want to beat China.” And Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) accused China of blinding U.S. satellites with lasers and aiding America’s enemies in Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.
Many Chinese — or those paying attention to the constant China talk — call these complaints a normal part of the U.S. election cycle, and they expect the white-hot rhetoric to cool down once the campaign is over, regardless of who wins the White House.
But economists, business people and others here also said that while some of the accusations against China hold some truth, others are unproven, and most involve complex issues that have been the subject of years of often tedious U.S.-China negotiations.
“Yes, the problems they talk about all exist, but none of them are new,” said Sun Zhe, director of the Center for U.S.-China Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “These are old problems, and they’ve been negotiating these for years.”
First is the issue of currency. While it is widely accepted that China controls the value of its renminbi, also called the yuan, Chinese and foreign economists note that the currency has been appreciating steadily since 2005, by about 25 percent. That is generally in line with a pledge by Beijing’s leaders in 2005 to allow the yuan to appreciate about 5 percent a year. That strengthening of the yuan was stopped in 2008, when the global economic crisis hit, but resumed last year.
Many U.S. economists say the yuan is still undervalued, perhaps by as much as 40 percent. But Chinese officials and outside experts say China has its own domestic worry that too rapid an appreciation would disrupt hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on exports. China will appreciate its currency on its own timetable, they say. In any event, they said, the yuan-to-dollar exchange rate did not cause America’s recession.
“The renminbi exchange rate is relatively low for now and is not the major cause for the economic downturn in the U.S.,” said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center on American Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University.
“The problem for the U.S. is they owe China so much debt,” he said, referring to the Chinese government’s vast holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds, estimated at about $1.5 trillion.