Political Frictions

Third Presidential Debate 2012: Obama and Romney on China

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney shake hands in Boca Raton, Florida.

 

Foreign policy takes center state in the last debate between President Obama and Governor Romney, October 22 at Flynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.

Obama says he insists China ‘plays by the rules’. Romney said the US must collaborate with China ‘if they’re willing to be responsible’.

 

 

Debate Transcript:

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let’s go to the next segment because it’s a very important one. It is the rise of China and future challenges for America. I want to just begin this by asking both of you — and Mr. President, you go first this time — what do you believe is the greatest future threat to the national security of this country?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think it will continue to be terrorist networks. We have to remain vigilant, as I just said

But with respect to China, China’s both an adversary but also a potential partner in the international community if it’s following the rules. So my attitude coming into office was that we are going to insist that China plays by the same rules as everybody else.

And I know Americans had — had seen jobs being shipped overseas, businesses and workers not getting a level playing field when it came to trade. And that’s the reason why I set up a trade task force to go after cheaters when it came to international trade. That’s the reason why we have brought more cases against China for violating trade rules than the other — the previous administration had done in two terms. And we’ve won just about every case that we’ve filed, that — that has been decided. In fact, just recently, steelworkers in Ohio and throughout the Midwest, Pennsylvania, are in a position now to sell steel to China because we won that case.

We had a tire case in which they were flooding us with cheap domestic tires — or — or — or cheap Chinese tires. And we put a stop to it and, as a consequence, saved jobs throughout America. I have to say that Governor Romney criticized me for being too tough in that tire case, said this wouldn’t be good for American workers and that it would be protectionist. But I tell you, those workers don’t feel that way. They feel as if they had finally an administration who was going to take this issue seriously.

Over the long term, in order for us to compete with China, we’ve also got to make sure, though, that we’re taking — taking care of business here at home. If we don’t have the best education system in the world, if we don’t continue to put money into research and technology that will allow us to — to create great businesses here in the United States, that’s how we lose the competition. And unfortunately, Governor Romney’s budget and his proposals would not allow us to make those investments.

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Governor.

MR. ROMNEY: Well, first of all, it’s not government that makes business successful. It’s not government investments that make businesses grow and hire people.

Let me also note that the greatest threat that the world faces, the greatest national security threat, is a nuclear Iran.

Let’s talk about China. China has an interest that’s very much like ours in one respect, and that is they want a stable world. They don’t want war. They don’t want to see protectionism. They don’t want to see the — the world break out into — into various forms of chaos, because they have to — they have to manufacture goods and put people to work. And they have about 20,000 — 20 million, rather, people coming out of the farms every year, coming into the cities, needing jobs. So they want the economy to work and the world to be free and open.

And so we can be a partner with China. We don’t have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form. We can work with them. We can collaborate with them if they’re willing to be responsible.

Now, they look at us and say, is it a good idea to be with America?

How strong are we going to be? How strong is our economy?

They look at the fact that we owe them a trillion dollars and owe other people 16 trillion (dollars) in total, including them. They — they look at our — our decision to — to cut back on our military capabilities — a trillion dollars. The secretary of defense called these trillion dollars of cuts to our military devastating. It’s not my term. It’s the president’s own secretary of defense called them devastating. They look at America’s commitments around the world and they see what’s happening and they say, well, OK, is America going to be strong? And the answer is yes. If I’m president, America will be very strong.

We’ll also make sure that we have trade relations with China that work for us. I’ve watched year in and year out as companies have shut down and people have lost their jobs because China has not played by the same rules, in part by holding down artificially the value of their currency. It holds down the prices of their goods. It means our goods aren’t as competitive and we lose jobs. That’s got to end.

They’re making some progress; they need to make more. That’s why on day one I will label them a currency manipulator which allows us to apply tariffs where they’re taking jobs. They’re stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our technology, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our goods. They have to understand, we want to trade with them, we want a world that’s stable, we like free enterprise, but you got to play by the rules.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, Governor, let me just ask you, if you declare them a currency manipulator on day one, some people are saying you’re just going to start a trade war with China on day one. Is that — isn’t there a risk that that could happen?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, they sell us about this much stuff every year. And we sell them about this much stuff every year. So it’s pretty clear who doesn’t want a trade war. And there’s one going on right now that we don’t know about. It’s a silent one and they’re winning. We have an enormous trade imbalance with China. And it’s worse this year than last year. And it was worse last year than the year before.

And — and so we have to understand that we can’t just surrender and — and lose jobs year in and year out. We have to say to our friends in China, look, you guys are playing aggressively, we understand it, but — but this can’t keep on going. You can’t keep on holding down the value of your currency, stealing our intellectual property, counterfeiting our products, selling them around the world, even into the United States.

I was with one company that makes valves in — in process industries. And they said, look, we were — we were having some valves coming in that — that were broken, and we had to repair them under warranty. And we looked them up, and — and they had our serial number on them. And then we noticed that — that there was more than one with that same serial number. They were counterfeit products being made overseas with the same serial number as a U.S. company, the same packaging. These were being sold into our market and around the world as if they were made by the U.S. competitor.

This can’t go on. I want a great relationship with China. China can be our partner. But — but that doesn’t mean they can just roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Governor Romney’s right. You are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas, because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas. And, you know, that’s your right. I mean, that’s how our free market works.

But I’ve made a different bet on American workers. You know, if we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry, we’d be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China. If we take your advice with respect to how we change our tax codes so that companies that are in profits overseas don’t pay U.S. taxes compared to companies here that are paying taxes, now, that’s estimated to create 800,000 jobs. The problem is they won’t be here; they’ll be in places like China. And if we’re not making investments in education and basic research, which is not something that the private sector is doing at a sufficient pace right now and has never done, then we will lose the lead in things like clean energy technology.

Now, with respect to what we’ve done with China already, U.S. exports have doubled, since I came into office, to China. And actually, currencies are at their most advantageous point for U.S. exporters since 1993. We absolutely have to make more progress, and that’s why we’re going to keep on pressing.

And when it comes to our military and Chinese security, part of the reason that we were able to pivot to the Asia-Pacific region after having ended the war in Iraq and transitioning out of Afghanistan, is precisely because this is going to be a massive growth area in the future. And we believe China can be a partner, but we’re also sending a very clear signal that America is a Pacific power, that we are going to have a presence there. We are working with countries in the region to make sure, for example, that ships can pass through, that commerce continues. And we’re organizing trade relations with countries other than China so that China starts feeling more pressure about meeting basic international standards. That’s the kind of leadership we’ve shown in the region. That’s the kind of leadership that we’ll continue to show.

MR. ROMNEY: I just want to take one of those points. Again, attacking me is not talking about an agenda for getting more trade and opening up more jobs in this country. But the president mentioned the auto industry and that somehow I would be in favor of jobs being elsewhere. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars. And I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry. My plan to get the industry on its feet when it was in real trouble was not to start writing checks. It was President Bush that wrote the first checks. I disagree with that. I said they need — these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, and in that process they can get government help and government guarantees, but they need to go through bankruptcy to get rid of excess cost and the debt burden that they’d — they’d built up.

And fortunately the president picked —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor Romney, that’s not what you said.

MR. ROMNEY: Fortunately, the president — you can take — you can take a look at the op-ed.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, you did not —

MR. ROMNEY: You can take a look at the op-ed.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You did not say that you would provide, Governor, help.

MR. ROMNEY: You know, I’m — I’m still speaking. I said that we would provide guarantees and — and that was what was able to allow these companies to go through bankruptcy, to come out of bankruptcy. Under no circumstances would I do anything other than to help this industry get on its feet. And the idea that has been suggested that I would liquidate the industry — of course not. Of course not.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let’s check the record.

MR. ROMNEY: That’s the height of silliness.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let’s — let’s check the record.

MR. ROMNEY: I have never said I would — I would liquidate the industry. I want to keep the industry growing and thriving.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, the people in Detroit don’t forget.

MR. ROMNEY: And — and that’s I have the kind of commitment to make sure that our industries in this country can compete and be successful. We in this country can compete successfully with anyone in the world. And we’re going to. We’re going to have to have a president, however, that doesn’t think that somehow the government investing in — in car companies like Tesla and — and Fisker, making electric battery cars — this is not research, Mr. President. These are the government investing in companies, investing in Solyndra. This is a company. This isn’t basic research. I — I want to invest in research. Research is great. Providing funding to universities and think tanks — great. But investing in companies? Absolutely not. That’s the wrong way to go.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, the fact of the matter is —

MR. ROMNEY: I’m still speaking.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well — (chuckles) —

MR. ROMNEY: So I want to make sure that we make — we make America more competitive —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.

MR. ROMNEY: — and that we do those things that make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, innovators, businesses to grow. But your investing in companies doesn’t do that. In fact it makes it less likely for them to come here —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, Governor —

MR. ROMNEY: — because the private sector’s not going to invest in a — in a — in a solar company if —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’m happy — I’m — I’m — I’m happy to respond —

MR. ROMNEY: — if you’re investing government money and someone else’s.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You’ve held the floor for a while. The — look, I think anybody out there can check the record. Governor Romney, you keep on trying to, you know, airbrush history here.

You were very clear that you would not provide government assistance to the U.S. auto companies even if they went through bankruptcy. You said that they could get it in the private marketplace. That wasn’t true. They would have gone through a —

MR. ROMNEY: You’re wrong. You’re wrong, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I — no, I am not wrong.

MR. ROMNEY: You’re wrong.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I am not wrong. And —

MR. ROMNEY: People can look it up. You’re right.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: People will look it up.

MR. ROMNEY: Good.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: But more importantly, it is true that in order for us to be competitive, we’re going to have to make some smart choices right now. Cutting our education budget — that’s not a smart choice. That will not help us compete with China. Cutting our investments in research and technology — that’s not a smart choice. That will not help us compete with China. Bringing down (sic) our deficit by adding $7 trillion of tax cuts and military spending that our military’s not asking for before we even get to the debt that we currently have — that is not going to make us more competitive. Those are the kinds of choices that the American people face right now. Having a tax code that rewards companies that are shipping jobs overseas instead of companies that are investing here in the United States — that will not make us more competitive.

And — and the one thing that I’m absolutely clear about is that after a decade in which we saw drift, jobs being shipped overseas, nobody championing American workers and American businesses, we’ve now begun to make some real progress. What we can’t do is go back to the same policies that got us into such difficulty in the first place. And that’s why we have to move forward and not go back.

MR. ROMNEY: I couldn’t agree more about going forward, but I certainly don’t want to go back to the policies of the last four years. The policies of the last four years have seen incomes in America decline every year for middle-income families, now down $4,300 during your term, 23 million Americans still struggling to find a good job. When you came into office, 32 million people on food stamps — today 47 million people on food stamps.

When you came to office, just over $10 trillion in debt — now $16 trillion in debt. It hasn’t worked. You said by now we’d be at 5.4 percent unemployment. We’re 9 million jobs short of that. I’ve met some of those people. I’ve met them in Appleton, Wisconsin. I — I met a young woman in — in — in Philadelphia who’s coming out of — out of college, can’t find work. I’ve been — Ann was with someone just the other day that was just weeping about not being able to get work. It’s just a tragedy in a nation so prosperous as ours that these last four years have been so hard.

And that — and that’s why it’s so critical that we make America once again the most attractive place in the world to start businesses, to build jobs, to grow the economy. And that’s not going to happen by — by just hiring teachers. Look, I — I love to — I love teachers, and I’m happy to have states and communities that want to hire teachers, do that. I — by the way, I don’t like to have the federal government start pushing its way deeper and deeper into — into our schools. Let the states and localities do that. I was a governor. The federal government didn’t hire our teachers.

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