Obama Stance on China Softens from 2008 to 2012

Fred Lucas | October 1, 2012 | 4:22pm EDT
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President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One before his departure from Andrews Air Force Base, Sunday, Sept., 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(CNSNews.com) Taking a far more measured approach to China trade than in his first presidential race, President Barack Obama said last week, “We don't go out of our way to embarrass” China for allegedly manipulating its currency. In 2008, Obama declared, “When we are talking to China, we should be tougher negotiators.”

Obama talked about the matter last week in a meeting with the editorial board of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland before a campaign rally in Kent, Ohio.

“What we have found is that when we push them very hard but we don’t go out of our way to embarrass them, we get results,” Obama told the editorial board.

“There's a strong nationalist sentiment inside of China, and they've got their own economic pressures,” the president continued. “So we’re not interested in triggering an all-out trade war that would damage both economies.

“What we’re interested in is making sure they're treating our workers fairly, and that's what we've delivered on. But as long as we see continued progress in the right direction when it comes to currency, we’ll be satisfied with results. We're less concerned with rhetoric on the issues,” he said.

Obama’s Republican opponent Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has said Obama has not been tough enough with China on trade issues, adding that if elected president, Romney’s administration would label the communist country a currency manipulator.

Obama repeatedly called China a currency manipulator in the 2008 presidential election, but in May of this year, the administration’s Treasury Department has declined to label it as such, saying that China made progress in allowing its currency to rise against the dollar, while still saying China’s currency – the yuan – is undervalued.

U.S. manufacturers have argued that the low currency gives China an unfair competitive advantage in selling products.

One of the more stinging rebukes from Obama against China came during a May 3, 2008 speech in Raleigh, N.C.

“When we are talking to China, we should be tougher negotiators,” Obama said. “We've got to have labor standards and environmental standards and safety standards so our children aren't chewing on toys with lead paint on them.

“And if they're manipulating their currency or they are not respecting our intellectual property, or other countries are threatening union workers with arrest, or in some cases death, then we've got to stand up for not only our workers, but workers all around the world,” he said.

“That's part of what the Democratic Party's all about, and that's part of what a Democratic president should be all about,” he added.

On Jan. 21, 2008, during a Democratic primary debate on CNN, then Sen. Obama said, “And, John [Edwards], you voted for permanent trade relations with China, which I think anybody who looks at how we structure trade in this country would tell you has been the biggest beneficiary and the biggest problem that we have with respect to trade, particularly because they're still manipulating the currency.”

On April 14, 2008, Obama spoke in Pittsburgh, where he said, “That's why I cosponsored the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act, and that's why as president I'll use all the diplomatic avenues open to me to insist that China stop manipulating its currency, because it's not fair to American manufacturers. It's not fair to you. And we are going to change it when I'm president of the United States of America.”

Also, during the Oct. 15 debate that year with Republican opponent John McCain, Obama said, “I believe in free trade. But I also believe that for far too long, certainly during the course of the Bush administration with the support of Sen. McCain, the attitude has been that any trade agreement is a good trade agreement and NAFTA doesn't have – did not have enforceable labor agreements and environmental agreements.

“And what I said was we should include those and make them enforceable. In the same way that we should enforce rules against China manipulating its currency to make our exports more expensive and their exports to us cheaper,” he said.

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