* Romney levels criticism during Xi Jinping's visit
* Tough talks on China a centerpiece of Romney campaign
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, Feb 16 Mitt Romney lashed out
at what he called President Barack Obama's weak policy on China,
criticizing it on Thursday for going in "precisely the wrong
direction" and calling meetings this week with China's vice
president "empty pomp and ceremony."
In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, the Republican
presidential candidate chided Obama for taking too long to
address the Asian powerhouse and said he would change course if
elected by preserving a military presence in the region and
confronting human rights issues.
"President Obama came into office as a near supplicant to
Beijing, almost begging it to continue buying American debt so
as to finance his profligate spending here at home ... Such
weakness has only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made our
allies question our staying power in East Asia," the former
Massachusetts governor wrote.
"Now, three years into his term, the president has belatedly
responded with a much-ballyhooed 'pivot' to Asia, a phrase that
may prove to be as gimmicky and vacuous as his 'reset' with
Russia," he said, adding that "the supposed pivot has been
oversold" and was "also vastly under-resourced."
"We must change course," said Romney, who is vying for the
Republican nomination to face Democrat Obama in the Nov. 6
Romney's comments come as China's Vice President Xi Jinping
visits the United States this week to urge greater cooperation
between Beijing and Washington. During the trip Obama and other
administration officials pressed China to improve its human
rights record and play by the rules of the world economy.
Such a stance aims to appeal to U.S. voters in an election
year during which voters in battleground states have suffered
job losses as their work moved to other countries, including
On Wednesday, one day after meeting with Xi at the White
House, Obama continued his attack on Chinese trade practices and
called for manufacturing jobs to move back to the United
Obama chided competitors for not playing "by the same rules"
at a campaign-style visit at Master Lock's Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
factory and pointed to his creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit
to investigate unfair trade practices in China and other
But Romney said in the newspaper piece he would take a
different tack, calling for direct action to counter "abusive
Chinese practices in the areas of trade, intellectual property,
and currency valuation."
Romney, who is running in large part on his experience as a
business executive, has made tough talk on China a centerpiece
of his campaign's economic message and last week criticised
China's "authoritarianism" during an address to an audience of
"Unless China changes its ways, on day one of my presidency
I will designate it a currency manipulator and take appropriate
counteraction. A trade war with China is the last thing I want,
but I cannot tolerate our current trade surrender," he wrote on
He also called for reversing defense cuts and maintaining a
strong military presence in the Pacific to balance "the
long-term challenge posed by China's build-up."
"This is not an invitation to conflict. Instead, this policy
is a guarantee that the region remains open for cooperative
trade, and that economic opportunity and democratic freedom
continue to flourish across East Asia," he wrote.
On the issue of human rights, Romney wrote: "We must also
forthrightly confront the fact that the Chinese government
continues to deny its people basic political freedoms and human