Skip to main content

Elections bring China-bashing season

By Oded Shenkar, Special to CNN
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Fri September 21, 2012
This week, President Obama announced a trade case against China while campaigning in Ohio.
This week, President Obama announced a trade case against China while campaigning in Ohio.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • This week, President Obama announced a trade complaint against China
  • Oded Shenkar says politicians tend to get tough on China in election season
  • He says Obama is tackling Chinese auto subsidies to appeal to Ohio voters
  • Shenkar: U.S. had plenty of opportunities to deal with unfair Chinese trade practices

Editor's note: Oded Shenkar is the Ford Motor Company Chair in Global Business Management at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University. He is the author of "Copycats: How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain a Strategic Edge."

(CNN) -- You know the presidential election is in full swing when politicians are getting tough on China. While both Democrats and Republicans promise to do just that, it is the Obama administration, being in the driver's seat, that has been leading the charge.

On Monday, the Obama administration filed a trade case against China at the World Trade Organization, arguing that it provides subsidies to its auto and auto parts industries that hurt American manufacturers.

If you had any doubts that the new complaint against unfair Chinese trade practices is part and parcel of the election campaign, consider these factors.

Oded Shenkar
Oded Shenkar

This week's complaint is the third one this year, and it comes just about two months before Election Day. Where was the administration before?

Ohio is a key battleground state, and automotive components happen to be one of the most important segments of the local economy. Why is Obama focusing on Chinese auto subsidies now? Note also that he made the announcement in Ohio during a campaign rally.

Tough with China? Give me a break. We don't know whether Obama conveyed to the Chinese what he told the Russians (just let me get through the election, and I will be more flexible), but it's no secret to anyone that China holds more than $1 trillion in U.S. debt. When you owe another country that much debt, it may not be so easy to act tough.

The Obama administration had plenty of opportunities to take steps that would genuinely challenge the Chinese. For example, it could have labeled China as a currency manipulator, which would have allowed the U.S. to take measures such as imposing tariffs unilaterally rather than through the WTO. Likewise, the administration has done little to offer vigorous protection of American intellectual property rights, which impacts a much broader array of U.S. business interests. And the administration has failed to take other concrete steps that would reduce China's competitive advantage.

Let me make it clear. I am not defending China, and I have often offered criticism of Chinese practices and continue to do so. However, I find the current round of China-bashing disingenuous and brazen in its kowtowing to politically viable groups. What we need is an effective strategy of how to deal with China in the long term rather than engage in election season tactics.

We should also face up to some of our own self-inflicted wounds. There are things under our control that undermine our competitiveness in relation not only to China but to numerous other countries.

For a starter, maybe our government should try to tackle the huge and growing debt that makes us beholden to other countries like China. Our educational system does not provide nearly enough to prepare our graduates for the skills and knowledge that companies require to succeed in a global workplace. And we should reconsider regulations that discourage companies from setting up plants in the U.S. while China looks attractive in comparison.

Instead, what we have are slogans that used to be quite popular with the Chinese in hardline communist days, e.g., doubling our exports in five years. How, exactly? Maybe the Obama administration and the Romney camp can start addressing those questions first.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Oded Shenkar.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016.
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT