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US Presidential Debate: Mr Obama seen as victor; focus shifts to China

Updated On: Oct 17, 2012

In the 2nd US presidential debate, President Barack Obama adopted an aggressive note from the beginning, tackling his opponent Mitt Romney over issues such as tax, women, immigration, and investment with China. While Mr Romney was predictably strident against China, both candidates have been seen as hardening their respective stances towards Beijing.

Mr Obama viewed as debate winner

The president was under pressure after underperforming in the first debate. This time he strove hard to make up for lost ground and to put his opponent off balance. Mr Romney, on the other hand, stumbled at one point during an exchange over the deadly attack on the US consulate in Libya.

Early post-debate polls illustrated that Mr Obama emerged from the second debate with the upper hand. Polls from CBS and CNN show that a majority of respondents saying Mr Obama won this debate.

Mr Obama went into the second debate trailing Mr Romney, which has been blamed almost entirely on the president's lacklustre performance in the first debate.

Report: Obama recovers poise in Romney clash (Financial Times, 17 Oct 2012)

China takes centre stage, a sign of things to come?

In this debate, China became a main focus for both candidates. Both were eager to demonstrate they would do a better job on China's trade practices which they claim have cost US jobs.

Mr Romney accused Obama of being weak on China, an allegation he has repeated on the campaign trail. He also re-emphasised his promise to label China as a "currency manipulator", a designation that would enable harsher tariffs on Chinese goods.

Mr Obama retorted that Mr Romney was investing in companies that have outsourced jobs to China. Mr Romney retaliated by calling on Mr Obama to check his own pension, which he alleges would show investments in Chinese companies.

Mr Romney repeatedly revisited China as a theme during the debate, saying he would make it more attractive for US businesses who have outsourced jobs to China to bring them back home.

The White House however has defended its record, saying it has brought several trade cases against China, and cautioned against provoking a trade war with Beijing. It claimed that less acrimonious rhetoric has been effective at encouraging China to make improvements on trade issues.

Republicans and Democrats have repeatedly promised to get tough on China. The issue is crucial in a handful of important "swing" states like Ohio, where many have been alarmed about the loss of manufacturing jobs to outsourcing and foreign competition.

"China-bashing" by both sides is seen by observers to be more heated in the 2012 US presidential election than any other election campaign.

Experts also warned that bipartisan antipathy towards China will not help the sluggish economic recovery of the US and could be harmful to US-China relations in the long term.

While it is not uncommon for presidential candidates to have a tougher stance during the election campaign but return to more moderate policy afterward, analysis in some western media suggest that current hostile campaign rhetoric could be more than a political gesture.

Mr Romney has appointed several advisers who are known to be anti-China, such as former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. This week a report labelled Chinese telecommunication companies Huawei and ZTE as national security threats, suggesting a shift in the policy tone of the Obama administration.

Report: China Becomes Featured Topic at Presidential Debate (VOA, 16 Oct 2012)

Report: US 'China-bashing' campaign a sign of things to come (AsiaOne [China Daily/Asia News Network], 16 Oct 2012)