In the Arena

China Syndrome

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There’s been a fair amount of comment about the relatively dovish position most Republican candidates for President have taken on Afghanistan (with the exception of Tim Pawlenty). But there has been an equally surprising development with regard to China: a decisive step away from free trade by more than a few of the candidates, led — surprisingly — by Mitt Romney.┬áThis seems further evidence of the Republican field’s drift toward Tea Party protectionist, isolationist populism, as does the desire to pull back from Afghanistan.

And it raises a major question for President Obama: Why hasn’t he addressed the very pronounced, and somewhat overstated, national fears about China’s growing economic strength?

Undoubtedly, he disagrees with the stark options raised by Romney. Our relationship with China is exceedingly delicate; mishandling it could have serious economic consequences. On the other hand, the intellectual property rights theft and currency manipulation issues raised by Romney are very serious problems, which have had a deleterious effect on our economy. Either way, it seems to me that the President is taking a major political risk by not addressing an issue that increasing numbers of Americans — especially the working-class independents who decide presidential elections — consider to be very important.