President Obama took questions from Senate Democrats on Wednesday and party convert Arlen Specter – who happens to up for re-election – got first ups. Specter asked about “jobs, jobs, jobs” and who did he blame for American economic woes? The Chinese. Here’s a transcript and an example of how Specter laid it on thick (my emphasis):
“… We have lost 2.3 million jobs as a result of the trade imbalance with China between 2001 and 2007. The remedies to save those jobs are very ineffective: long delays, proceedings before the International Trade Commission subject to being overruled by the president. We have China violating international law with subsidies and dumping. It’s really a form of international banditry. They take our money and then they lend it back to us and own now a big part of the United States.
“… China has not lived up to its obligations to have its markets open to us, but they take our markets and take our jobs. Would you support an effort to revise, perhaps even revoke, that bilateral treaty which gives China such an unfair trade advantage?”
The trade imbalance and Chinese currency kerfuffle is the latest in a series of bumps in the Washington-Beijing relationship. The Obama administration just announced a big arms package for Taiwan. The president will meet the Dalai Lama soon. There was the Chinese roadblock at Copenhagen on climate change and now, more resistance on confronting Iran over its nuclear program. So, are US-China relations going into a downward spiral?
Not really, says John Pomfret of the Washington Post. He’s a long-time China correspondent and author of Chinese Lessons. “This is sort of the new normal between the United States and the People’s Republic of China,” Pomfret told me this morning. “I don’t even think that this whole narrative that the Obama administration is trying to ‘get tough’ with China is true either.” Pomfret said the president was clear about these issues with Beijing – Taiwan arms sales, Tibet, the Dalai Lama, trade – and that his administration would be confronting China on this stuff. Pomfret said, there are really no surprises here, but the friction is partly to due to the fact that these issues are all bubbling up at the same time.
Here’s a clip from my conversation with Pomfret, where he mentions a few things that you might want to keep in mind when you hear stories about the US and China gearing up for a huge show down.