China featured prominently in the 2nd and 3rd US presidential debates, in fact, more in the 2nd than the 3rd, even though the latter was on foreign policy. Although there has been handringing in Beijing because President Obama and Governor Romney have emphasized the competitive nature of the relationship and the need to have China play by the rules, neither has given many specifics about policy going forward. Also, both have used essentially the same formulation, "We want to be partners if China plays by the rules." That is essentially consistent with the approach taken since the middle of the Clinton Administration.
The most detail we got from Romney is that, "On Day One I will label China a currency manipulator." That implies he will institute sanctions or penalties against China because the RMB is undervalued. Maybe, but not necessarily. There are several steps that have to occur between his declaration and sanctions, and none are automatic. So this moment of supposed policy precision is just another example of Romney being Romney. In fact, we have absolute zero idea what Romney's policies toward China -- or essentially anywhere in the world -- will be.
President Obama's position seems clearer. He'll continue his policies of the last 4 years, particularly since the administration adopted its "pivot" to Asia in 2010/11. Obama will continue to go to the WTO, since as he noted, the US has been so successfl there. By my count, it has won 9 of 10 cases against China in Geneva. He also was perhaps unexpectedly honest about the Trans-Pacific Partnerhsip (TPP). He did not mention these words last night, but when he said the US is organizing countriesi in the region to adopt an agreement on trade and investment principles that sets high standards and that should put additional pressure on China, he meant TPP. This framing gives the agreement a sharper edge than perhaps the administration has been suggesting in public, but one can see why Obama would do so in the context of the campaign. He may have also concluded that there is no way China would ever sign on, at least initially, so there's no harm in being more explicit about the TPP's goals.
Switching gears, in 2011, China sold less than 9,000 electric or hybrid vehicles. At the time I remarked how this was a horrible record for a country supposedly so intent on promoting green energy. Things have only gotten worse. According to Caixin, in the first 3 quarters of 2012, China has sold only 235 electric cars. That is essentially zero and means there is no support for this sector whatsoever. China reportedly did export 7,500 electric cars. If so, we are seeing the same pattern as in the solar sector: export over 95% of production. This means solar and electric vehicles are part of a global trade strategy but not central to domestic energy or conservation policy.