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Romney and Obama Argue Over Who Would be Tougher on China Trade Issues

October 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST

JUDY WOODRUFF: Besides jousting over domestic policy issues and Libya last night, the candidates also zeroed in on China.

Our Jeffrey Brown reports.

MITT ROMNEY (R): I will crack down on China. President Bush didn’t.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Gov. Romney invested in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing to China.

JEFFREY BROWN: Again and again last night, as often in this campaign, China was a focus of the two candidates, as they traded accusations over alleged unfair practices by the world’s second largest economy and over what can or should be done to preserve American jobs.

Mitt Romney repeatedly accused China of keeping its currency artificially low to make its exports more competitive.

MITT ROMNEY: China has been a currency manipulator for years and years and years. And the president has a regular opportunity to label them as a currency manipulator, but refuses to do so.

On day one, I will label China a currency manipulator.

JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama countered that his administration has already been tough on this issue.

BARACK OBAMA: And as far as currency manipulation, the currency has actually gone up 11 percent since I have been president because we have pushed them hard.

JEFFREY BROWN: Both candidates pointed to the loss of American jobs to cheaper Chinese labor. The president touted his 2009 imposition of tariffs on low-priced Chinese tires.

BARACK OBAMA: When I said that we had to make sure that China was not flooding our domestic market with cheap tires, Gov. Romney said I was being protectionist, that it wouldn’t be helpful to American workers. Well, in fact we saved 1,000 jobs.

JEFFREY BROWN: Gov. Romney said more needs to be done.

MITT ROMNEY: And the place where we’ve seen manufacturing go has been China. China is now the largest manufacturer in the world. It used to be the United States of America. A lot of good people have lost jobs.

NARRATOR: And China is stealing American ideas and technology.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a theme both have hit hard in ads. The Obama campaign has also attacked Romney for investing in companies that sent jobs to China while he was at Bain Capital and for investing in Chinese companies themselves.

NARRATOR: Even today, part of Romney’s fortune is invested in China.

JEFFREY BROWN: Last night, President Obama again made that point, leaving his opponent to ask the president where his investments go.

MITT ROMNEY: Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust. And I understand they do include investments outside the United States, including in — in Chinese companies.

Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension?

BARACK OBAMA: I have got to say…

MITT ROMNEY: Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?

JEFFREY BROWN: The punching-bag tone of the debate didn’t sit well in China. Today, the state-run news agency issued a statement saying:

“The presidential campaign reflects an alarming scenario in which China-bashing has become a ritual. This ritual, however, negatively impacts China-U.S. relations and leaves Americans with the impression that China is responsible for their country’s decline.”

Also today, a Foreign Ministry spokesman denied his country manipulates exchange rates, and said he hoped the election campaign wouldn’t harm bilateral relations.