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TheStreet Open House

Romney Could Beat Obama on Trade With China

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Mitt Romney has a chance to stun his critics and actually do the right thing for a change. He can give new meaning to the expression "a stopped clock is right twice a day" -- and take on President Obama's weak-kneed approach to China.

China can be a potential wedge issue for Romney -- and what's more, amazingly for this nauseating, trivia-obsessed political season, it is a genuine, substantive issue, one that deserves a central place in the political dialogue.

Say what you want about the GOP presidential candidate as he emerges from his anointing in Tampa this week -- he is certainly making the right noises about China's aggressive trading tactics. He recently said the U.S. must say "no more" to the behemoth to the east. China has systematically kept the value of the yuan low to make its exports cheaper, and Romney says he would brand China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. "That stance puts Romney at odds with President Barack Obama, who's resisted formally rebuking China for its currency practices," Bloomberg pointed out Tuesday.

Shortly before the Tampa convention, Romney issued a tough but vague statement saying he would "implement a strategy that makes the path of regional hegemony for China far more costly than the alternative path of becoming a responsible partner in the international system."

If he handles it right, Romney could gain the upper hand over Obama on a populist issue that is worrisome for human rights groups and labor unions, which are troubled by China's anti-labor policies at home and contribution to job-destruction in this country. Concern about China can be found on the right and the left, in the Occupy movement and even the Tea Party, as there is evidence that the Tea Partiers, their devotion to laissez-faire notwithstanding, aren't big fans of free trade.

Sure, there's every reason to expect that Romney's stance is just that -- a stance. A nice-sounding pose that is utterly devoid of substance. Indeed, China specialists point out that Romney's position differs from Obama's more in tone than substance.

You might even say that Romney's saber-rattling on China is the worst kind of hypocrisy, given that much of the surrender to China -- and inaction over its illegal methods -- took place during the Bush administration. It's also contradicted by his pro-big-business regulatory and tax positions and his bankrolling by Sheldon Adelson, the China gambling magnate.

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