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  • Writer's pictureXiaodong Fang

Is Trump the "chosen one" to take on China? No, it is the China-bashing in the last election



President Trump said he was the "chosen one" to start the trade war with China. And he also blamed the former administrations of not being tough on China by telling reporters outside the White House,

“This isn’t my trade war, this is a trade war that should have taken place a long time ago.”

Why did the current White House start the trade war with China, and the last administration not? The answer is the intensity of China-bashing in the last election.


I argue that the more intensity of China-bashing by presidential candidates, the more pressure it produces for the winning President to keep its campaign promises on China.


Take Obama's policy change on China's trade for example, according to Politifact, Obama’s campaign promise regarding China’s trade issues was “compromised” after the 2008 presidential election since the China-bashing regarding trade and currency issues was scarcely used by presidential candidates. During the 2008 presidential campaign, there were only two New York Times articles with presidential candidates’ China-bashing regarding trade and currency issues. The first one was about the presidential debate on Oct. 15, 2008, when debating oil policy, Obama complained China’s currency manipulation. The other one was on Oct. 26, 2008, the New York Times noted that “in 2005, Mr. Obama supported a bill that would have imposed a tariff on imports from China if the Chinese did not agree to revalue their currency; Mr. McCain opposed it.”


By contrast, Obama’s campaign promise regarding China’s currency issues was rated “in the works” after the 2012 presidential election since much more China-bashing regarding trade and currency issues was made by presidential candidates than those in 2008. In 2012, there were 16 New York Times articles that contained presidential candidate’s China-bashing regarding trade and currency issues during the campaign period from Mar. 1 to Nov. 6, 2012.


With an intensified campaign efforts using China-bashing, much more public attention was drawn in 2012 than those in 2008. Therefore, after the 2008 presidential election, the President had less need to respond to the opponent and under little public obligation to keep his campaign promises; while after the 2012 presidential election, with much more China-bashing by presidential candidates were reported than that in 2008, the President was under greater public obligation to keep his own promises and response to the opponent’s.



Accordingly, the more intensity of China-bashing by presidential candidates in 2012 than that in 2008 produced more pressure for President Obama to keep its campaign promises on China’s trade and currency issues.


In the 2016 presidential election, the number of China-bashing by presidential candidates, as reported in the New York Times, had climbed to 36. More public attention is generated on China issues than in the past elections. And thus, President Trump has to keep his promises by starting the trade war with China.


So, we can foresee a tougher U.S. policy towards when there are more China-bashing in the presidential campaigns, and vice verse. In 2020, presidential candidates who want to effectively change China could explore the strategy of China-bashing to influence the winning President's China policy.


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