Skip to main content

Elections bring China-bashing season

By Oded Shenkar, Special to CNN
September 21, 2012 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
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
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 2209 GMT (0609 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1802 GMT (0202 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1900 GMT (0300 HKT)
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT