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
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT