One issue that should be front and center in the campaign is U.S. policy toward China. Instead, that topic receives surprisingly little attention—especially compared to the obsession over every aspect of Middle East policy. When it is not ignored, candidates too often take shrill positions merely to score cheap political points with disgruntled constituencies. Given the great importance of the bilateral relationship, such posturing is unfortunate and could become dangerous.
The lack of attention to China policy was evident in the first debate among the 10 leading GOP candidates. Most of them did not even mention the country, and those who did clearly adopted a hostile attitude. Donald Trump scorned U.S. leaders for not being better negotiators in their dealings with Beijing. Senator Rand Paul mentioned that China holds an enormous amount of U.S. governmental debt, making it clear that he believed such dependence was unhealthy and a national vulnerability. A few of the other candidates on the stage implied that China was among the “enemies” that supposedly no longer respected the United States because of Barack Obama’s lack of effective leadership.
That behavior has been typical of the campaign thus far. Carly Fiorina, the fastest rising star in the Republican field, has devoted time to discussing China, but Chinese leaders almost certainly do not welcome the attention. Both in the debate and on other occasions, Fiorina has taken an extremely confrontational stance regarding such issues as the South China Sea territorial disputes and cyber security. In an interview with CBS News, she recommended that the United States increase its flyover aerial surveillance of the South China Sea. And it is clear that she has no sympathy for Beijing’s territorial claims. “We cannot permit China to control a trade route through which passes $5 trillion worth of goods and services every year,” she stated bluntly.