Presidential possibility Mitt Romney has a 59 point economic plan to implement his vow to crackdown on China's trade policy. What is unusual is that Romney’s business experience has identified him with the Republicans’ free-trade, pro-business wing, yet he has promised to go farther than President Obama in confronting China. Other business leaders warn that his approach could set off a trade war that would damage the United States economy. The political question is whether Romney’s stance can attract enough votes to make him President. Confronting China can play an effective role in winning votes but launching a trade war would hurt the US economy as much as it would hurt China, and the number of American votes changed may not be worth the risk.
However, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are preparing to demonstrate to the American people that they know how to exercise the enormous power of United States, unprecedented in human history, with overwhelming components in the military, finance, trade, technology and supported by a stable social and political support system.
Americans like to think that they are exceptional among nations, set apart by origin and experience and ideology as the ideal. Are we the “shining city upon a hill” that Ronald Reagan, Mitt Romney and so many other politicians and public leaders have described? Are we “chosen by God to be a model to the world?” This year, for the first time, most Americans did not say yes. Some surveys tell us that most Americans are not that positive, believing that our position in the world has been declining in the past few years, no longer the leading country in the world. We may have overpraised ourselves to assume the right to run the world by the systematic accumulation of exceptional power.
Ronald Reagan was the prototype of the presidential cold warrior. In a world terrified of the potential use of nuclear weapons, he challenged the Soviet Union for world hegemony when the USSR was considered to have a decisive military, geographical, technological and political advantage. And he ran his 1980 campaign and direct challenge of the only competing superpower - and changed the balance of power without war, a grand demonstration of his political aptitude and exploitation of rival weakness.
Mitt Romney searches for a winning strategy over Barack Obama, a strategy that will rebuild American popular belief in the unique character of its government while proving to the world the right of the US to run the world over all rivals.
The US and China have many sources of conflict, some potentially dangerous. If Romney’s campaign is based on reducing China's power, it will gratify America's exceptionalist need to dominate and minimize the possibility of a rival superpower, marginalizing China the way Reagan marginalized the Soviet Union. And he might even win the election affecting world history like Reagan.
Points of conflict already exist. The Chinese have warned the US to stay out of their disputes with the independent islands over waterway controls in the South China Sea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is hanging tough insisting that the US has a basic interest in supporting the claims of various tiny nations in the area. China insists that it has a core interest in the islands similar to its interest in Tibet and Taiwan. The majority of US naval power regularly prowls the area. China's economic might has rolled up to America's doorstep in the Caribbean backed by a flurry of loans, gifts and investments by Chinese banks and companies in a region long dominated by the US. We have 28,500 troops in South Korea. Will Romney keep them there? Romney has accused Obama of being a near supplicant to Beijing, promising to apply sanctions on China for its currency policies on his first day in office. China's Ministry of National Defense criticized US plans to establish a military presence in Australia. China complains that US alliances with China's neighbors is military encirclement.
Still, China is not expansionist: it already has its empire. Its policy of non-interference in the affairs of other states constrains what it can do itself. And the Chinese brag that all their troops are on Chinese soil in contrast to the US which has thousands of troops on hundreds of military bases scattered around the world. America's best response should mix military strength with diplomatic subtlety to counter China’s paranoia about being marginalized as was Russia. There must be adequate room and respect for all three powerhouses.