Candidates Seek to Politicize Issues of China and Manufacturing

By: Jeremy W. Peters, The New York Times

United States-China relations continue to surface as an issue on the campaign trail, particularly in battleground states like Ohio where manufacturing is a major force in the local economy. Now both President Obama and Mitt Romney are running television commercials that trade accusations over who is softer on China, and who is more to blame for sending American jobs there.

The Romney campaign ad states: “Under Obama we’ve lost over half a million manufacturing jobs, and for the first time China is beating us. Seven times Obama could have stopped China’s cheating. Seven times he refused.” Then it cuts to Mr. Romney, who declares, “It’s time to stand up to the cheaters and make sure we protect jobs for the American people.”

The announcer concludes, “Barack Obama: failing to stop cheating, failing American workers.”

The Obama campaign ad, released a day after the Romney one first appeared, opens on an incredulous note. “Mitt Romney tough on China?” an announcer asks. “Romney’s companies were called pioneers in shipping U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas. He invested in firms that specialized in relocating jobs to low-wage countries like China. Even today part of Romney’s fortune is invested in China. Romney’s never stood up to China. All he’s done is send them our jobs.”

Who is right? Mr. Romney’s first claim — that more than half a million manufacturing jobs have disappeared since Mr. Obama took office — is supported by data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which show manufacturing employment at 12.5 million in January 2009 and put it at just under 12 million as of August, a net loss because of job cuts during the recession.

However, what the ad does not say is that manufacturers have actually added several hundred thousand jobs since early 2010, a bright spot in an otherwise dull economy.

His second claim, regarding the “seven times Obama could have stopped China’s cheating,” refers to the Treasury Department’s repeated decisions — under both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations — to decline to label China a currency manipulator. Mr. Romney has said he would reverse that course, a position that has alarmed some free-trade Republicans, who think the move could escalate tensions between the United States and China.

Mr. Obama has made the term “outsourcing pioneer” a regular line in his stump speech and a catchphrase in his advertising. It is also one of the most disputed accusations of the presidential campaign. Its origins lie in a Washington Post article from June, in which the paper reported that Bain Capital, the private equity company Romney founded, “owned companies that were pioneers in the practice of shipping work from the United States to overseas call centers and factories.”

But to say that these companies were “pioneers” — that is, literally paving the way for others to ship jobs overseas — has been called a stretch by independent fact-checkers because it misleadingly implies that Bain was leading an industry trend at the time. The Romney campaign tried, but ultimately failed, to win a retraction from The Post for its story, which the Obama campaign used as fodder for an attack ad immediately after its publication.

As for the ad’s other claim, that part of Mr. Romney’s fortune is tied to Chinese investments? It is true, but it fails to note that this is not due to any action on Mr. Romney’s part. This year, The New York Times reported that late last year “a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust has holdings purchased the video surveillance division of a Chinese company.”

Though Mr. Romney has had no role in Bain’s operations since 1999, his fortune is still closely linked to the company.

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