Mitt Romney’s stern campaign-trail rhetoric on China has earned him rebukes from some outside observers and even from one of his former GOP rivals, former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R). (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the English- and Chinese-language editions of the state-run Global Times, wrote Wednesday in an op-ed on the Foreign Policy Web site that Romney’s China rhetoric amounts to “hollow threats.”

“Romney’s tough words toward China sound very empty, as if he’s just communicating to the electorate his determination to be faithful to America’s national interests,” Hu wrote.

“Attacking China on human rights and its political system and describing China as an ‘opponent’ in military and economic areas makes the loyalty he has pledged to the United States seem more real. Barack Obama, as president, cannot directly attack China; Romney, as a candidate, will attack us every chance he gets -- if merely to make the point that Obama is constrained and weak.”

Hu, who made headlines in January when he joined Twitter even as the Chinese government continues to block access to the microblogging site, took aim in the op-ed at Romney’s campaign-trail promise to label China as a currency manipulator on his first day as president – a pledge that Hu described as “Romney’s most striking attack line toward China.”

“Will he really do this?” Hu wrote. “I don’t know. But what’s certain is that if he does end up in the White House, he wouldn’t dare provoke an all-out trade war between China and the United States. Even if he does call China a currency manipulator, the label will be meaningless because of the hugeness of Sino-U.S. trade.”

A Romney spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the op-ed.

All of the GOP White House hopefuls – as well as President Obama and members of both parties on Capitol Hill – have taken political aim at China over the currency issue, human rights and other matters.

When it comes to actual policymaking, however, both parties take a more nuanced approach to U.S.-China relations. The recent move by House Republican leaders not to take up the Senate-passed China currency bill – and the White House’s decision not to call on Congress to pass the measure – provides just one example of actions not quite matching rhetoric.

Would a Romney presidency be similarly nuanced? Hu argues yes.

“As for the U.S.-China row over things like rare earths, the exchange rate, and even human rights, all these conflicts have been very specific, and they haven’t capsized the whole relationship,” he wrote. “We believe the person whom the Americans elect to enter the White House will, at the very least, have rational thoughts. Romney won’t make the mistake of turning a specific conflict into a showdown with 1.3 billion Chinese people.”

The full op-ed can be found here.