The Dangers of China Bashing

 
 

You’d like to imagine that if a candidate for public office starts off their latest campaign ad by declaring that she’s not a witch that you could afford to dismiss her views on international relations.

Not, it seems, if she’s running for the US Senate.

Christine O’Donnell, the Republican Party’s candidate for Delaware, made just such a statement in her newest TV spot in an effort to allay concerns over her apparent confession a decade ago that she had dabbled in witchcraft.

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More recently, O’Donnell claimed that China was plotting to take over the United States. According to AP, the statement was made during a 2006 debate with other Republican candidates.

AP reports: ‘She said China had a “carefully thought out and strategic plan to take over America” and accused one opponent of appeasement for suggesting that the two countries were economically dependent and should find a way to be allies.

‘“That doesn't work,” she said. “There's much I want to say. I wish I wasn't privy to some of the classified information that I am privy to.”’

Unfortunately, O’Donnell, with the backing of the Tea Party movement, managed to secure the Republican nomination. And although polls show her still trailing her Democratic opponent, she appears to be gradually closing the gap.

As a new Voice of America analysis suggests, the results of the mid-term elections—and the likely elevation of a crop of conservatives—could have a genuine impact on US foreign policy, including toward China.

Interestingly, the US Senate was conceived as a sort of moderating force on the more populist House of Representatives. But in an election year when Democrats face heavy losses, and with Republicans under pressure from the conservative Tea Party movement to lean further right, it seems even the upper chamber may not prove immune from a little grandstanding.

I noted last week that the House (which seems unable to find bipartisan agreement on virtually anything else) has already voted strongly in favour of a bill that would give the Obama administration greater authority to slap tariffs on Chinese imports to the United States in response to China’s alleged currency manipulation. It will be interesting to see what happens in a new-look Senate.

Of course, some might be tempted to dismiss all this as the kind of populist shenanigans that’s to be expected in an election year. But as Kevin Hassett, a Bloomberg columnist and director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, argued this week:

‘Bashing China has real costs: It might cause a trade war reminiscent of the one that put the world economy into a death spiral in the 1930s. And it definitely distracts attention from the need for government policies that directly help the U.S. economy and those looking for jobs.’

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