MANILA, Philippines - In the last US presidential debate, Republican Mitt Romney called China a “currency manipulator,” which some analysts fear could affect trade between the two superpowers.
He later backtracked and said the US can work and collaborate with China if it plays by the rules.
US President and Democratic candidate Barack Obama, on the other hand, was safe with his words. He even urged China to make US products more competitive. However, he did call China an “adversary.”
Analysts said the two played it safe on China, noting China’s impact on the American economy which is suffering from relatively high unemployment.
The US foreign policy debate over China affects the Philippines since it needs its Western ally in fending off China in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Last May, Democrat and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a strong statement that China already exceeded claims provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
China immediately reacted. Chinese Foreign Ministry Hong Lei said: “On the issue of the South China Sea, non-claimant countries and countries outside the region have adopted a position of not getting involved in territorial disputes.”
Freedom of navigation
At the “Kapihan sa Embahada” on the 2012 US elections held Wednesday, the difference in foreign policy between Republicans and Democrats was presented.
Republicans Abroad Philippines’ Doyle Stout said: “The Philippines is in the middle of a dispute. The Republicans’ greatest priority is freedom of navigation, and China is blocking that.”
He said the Republicans believe that China’s bullying tactics should not be allowed. “I know China, their military is formidable. We won’t let them bully us…The US government will be behind the Philippines 100%,” said Stout, who is also a retired US Marine officer.
Democrats Abroad Philippines’ John Boyd agreed that China should not be allowed to direct navigation in the seas and control trade. In fact, under Obama’s administration, the US continued to respect its treaties with the Philippines as well as other nations clashing with China, such as Japan.
“But we should still treat China with respect…We should not upset them. It’s not on the first day that you already call China a ‘currency manipulator,’” he said.
He said China’s support is needed with respect to sanctions against Iran, the biggest nuclear threat today. China is Iran’s largest trading partner.
Analysts and militants would probably say that Obama’s and Romney’s play with words are just meant to soften the blow against China, which it needs in bolstering its economy.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago herself had said the Philippines should not expect much from the US. Back in July, she suggested the use of “scream diplomacy,” which means tapping other allies’ help instead of lashing back at China. “Well, we have to scream, like me, when I’m outnumbered I scream.”
In the meantime, a wait-and-see attitude awaits the whole international community as to what the real intention of the US President-elect will be on the China issue.
US Embassy External Affairs Officer David Sequeira noted there is actually “no large shift on foreign policy” of the Democrats or the Republicans.
Nonetheless, foreign trade is still a dominant issue between Obama and Romney, but only with regard to creating jobs and reducing unemployment. “To resonate with voters is to defend workers and bring back the jobs [to the US],” he said.