More broadly, however, both Romney and the GOP say that, if elected, he’ll pursue a more robust and confrontational policy toward China in the Pacific and the South China Sea. Although, aside from rhetorical flourishes, it’s difficult to ascertain many clear differences with Obama’s “pivot to Asia” and the White House’s determination to bolster America’s position in the Pacific, at least some of Romney’s rhetoric and position-taking could signal a far tougher U.S. policy in Asia. Romney’s campaign website says, “Mitt Romney will implement a strategy that makes the path of regional hegemony for China far more costly than the alternative path of becoming a responsible partner in the international system.” It declares that the United States should “expand its naval presence in the Western Pacific,” and, implicitly attacking Obama for refusing to sell F-16s to Taiwan, it adds, “The Department of Defense should reconsider recent decisions not to sell top-of-the-line equipment to our closest Asian allies. We should be coordinating with Taiwan to determine its military needs and supplying them with adequate aircraft and other military platforms.”
That rhetoric was enough to provoke an angry editorial in the China Daily, accusing Romney of exhibiting “a Cold War mentality,” singling out Romney’s proposal to bolster ties with Taiwan for revealing “ignorance of the fundamentals of Sino-U.S. ties.” Said the paper: “Compared to the ‘strategic pivot’ policies U.S. President Barack Obama is implementing in the region, Romney’s recommendations are more pugnacious.”
Romney’s advisers don’t provide much guidance when it comes to deciding which way Romney might go on issues such as China, Iran, and Afghanistan. Some of them, such as Eliot Cohen, Eric Edelman, Robert Kagan, John Lehman, and especially Dan Senor – who, in recent weeks, has emerged as spokesman for the campaign’s foreign policy team – are drawn from the neoconservative wing of the Republican party. Among them, as one of three members of Romney’s Asia-Pacific team, is Aaron Friedberg, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. On the other hand, a passel of moderates are also part of the Romney team, such as Evan Feigenbaum and Kent Lucken, two other co-chairs of the candidate’s Asia-Pacific team. And in August Romney named Robert Zoellick, who embodies the traditional Republican-realist bloc’s views, as coordinator of his transition team. The naming of Zoellick alarmed hawks and neocons, especially because Zoellick is supposedly “soft on China.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.