Republican presidential hopefuls bash China

Wisconsin governor and US presidential candidate Scott Walker speaks to voters at the Prince William County Young Republicans' Grillfest at the Republican Committee Headquarters in Woodbridge, Virginia USA on Aug 29, 2015.
Wisconsin governor and US presidential candidate Scott Walker speaks to voters at the Prince William County Young Republicans' Grillfest at the Republican Committee Headquarters in Woodbridge, Virginia USA on Aug 29, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON • Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants President Barack Obama to cancel Chinese President Xi Jinping's upcoming state visit. Stealing some of his thunder, Florida Senator Marco Rubio countered that it should be downgraded to a regular working visit.

Welcome to the summer of China-bashing, brought to you by Mr Donald Trump's surge to the top of the Republican presidential field and also by a Chinese economic slump that has caused tremendous anxiety in US markets.

In competing op-eds and speeches last Friday in Charleston, South Carolina, both called for a more confrontational posture with China. Both argued that denying China a state visit would show "strength" in the face of the country's recent cyber attack on the US and poor human rights record.

Both said Mr Obama has shown "weakness" in the face of the rising global power and critical US trading partner. Mr Walker said Mr Obama has moved to "reward" China, while Mr Rubio used the word "appease". Where Mr Walker said "China needs to be taken to task", Mr Rubio said "we can no longer succumb to the illusion that more rounds of cordial dialogue with its rulers will effect a change of heart".

China policy experts aren't impressed. Mr Derek Scissors, a scholar with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told National Review that rescinding the invite for the China state visit "would be seen as childish US provocation" and "harm our credibility".

Apart from Mr George H. W. Bush, every president dating back to Mr Ronald Reagan has adopted an anti-China theme of some sort on the campaign trail. It plays well politically, but the realities of US and Chinese economic interdependence have led each of them to reverse course once elected.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline 'Republican presidential hopefuls bash China'. Print Edition | Subscribe