The following editorial appeared Sunday in the Kansas City Star.
Bashing China has become a ritual in presidential campaigns.
The recent back-and-forth between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney fits the pattern perfectly, but this time, the smoothing-out part might be dicier what with tensions already heightened in the South China Sea, where China is bullying its neighbors over control of disputed island chains. Beijing is already suspicious of Washington's role in these disputes.
After Romney accused Obama of being soft on China, the Obama administration filed a World Trade Organization complaint targeting Chinese subsidies that cut prices on exported cars and car parts. Romney called the move "too little, too late," and has said that if elected he would declare Beijing a currency manipulator, opening the door to tariffs on Chinese imports.
This may please swing-state voters with jobs threatened by foreign competition, but it should concern consumers generally. Obama and Romney are competing to be seen as eager to whack Chinese imports with tariffs, which would mean higher prices on a lot of things we buy.
Only in the looking-glass world of trade politics do politicians want to be seen as tax-raisers, which is what you are when you raise a tariff.
America's China-trade debate seems increasingly behind the curve. China's trade surplus with the United States remains hefty, but its surplus with the rest of the world is shrinking fast. Five years ago it was 10 percent of the Chinese economy. Last year it was less than 3 percent. China's once-low wages are rising speedily around 10 percent a year over the last decade.
Many economists believe China's recent investment boom has been overdone and the nation is headed for a hard landing.
Within five years, thanks to its one-child policy and its rapidly aging population, its labor force will begin to shrink.
The emphasis in our trade debate is wrong. Instead of talking about raising U.S. trade barriers, why don't the candidates tell us how they would work to lower China's?
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