President Obama came back last year with the so-called “strategic pivot” towards the Asia-Pacific, ramping up trade complaints, stationing troops in Australia, declaring the shipping lanes of the South China Sea as a US "core interest" and engaging with Burma, China’s longtime vassal-ally.
The US-China relationship had been strained again by the ongoing violence in Syria and rising threat of Israeli intervention in Iran, with Beijing standing squarely behind Moscow in vetoing a UN resolution calling for the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to stand down.
“But up to now it has been almost exclusively talk – and talk is cheap,” said Professor Friedberg who is the author of A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia.
“The question in my mind is whether we going to follow through, which is going to involve military spending and pushing our friends and allies to do more to strengthen their own defences, even though that is going to antagonize the Chinese.”
Although not speaking directly for the campaign, Prof. Friedberg’s remarks fit with Mr Romney’s own tough talk on China, in which he has accused Beijing of “cheating” by stealing technologies, unfairly subsidising its producers and manipulating its currency, the yuan.
Mr Romney argues that failing to confront China poses bigger risks than ignoring its transgressions of global rules, and has promised to name China a “currency manipulator” on “day one” of his administration, a move that Mr Obama has so far consistently eschewed.
“Actually doing something about China’s cheating makes some people nervous,” Mr Romney wrote in the Washington Post after announcing his candidacy last year, “Not doing something makes me nervous.”