- Wed, 03/28/2012 - 22:01
Originally published Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 3:53 PM
By Bruce Ramsey
Seattle Times editorial columnist
Columnist Bruce Ramsey, in China, finds business and government leaders philosophical about the political posturing of U.S. presidential candidates. The realities are more important than the theater.
SHANGHAI — Chinese officials are inclined to discount Mitt Romney's statement that he would declare China "a currency manipulator ... on Day One of my presidency ... and take appropriate counteraction."
Romney's statement, in the Feb. 16 Wall Street Journal, accused President Obama of having been "a near supplicant to Beijing."
I asked Zhao Yumin, a divisional director in China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, about Romney's nationalistic barking. Zhao made a diplomat's smile. China has known Mitt Romney for a long time, he said. "We have friends who are his friends," he said.
"He was governor of Massachusetts when our premier, Wen Jiabao, visited there in 2003," Zhao said. "He gave quite a warm welcome to us." Romney had been to Beijing many times.
Zhao said he understood that in the American political system a candidate would say things "in his need to get more votes." He seemed to be one of the many people here who think of Romney as far too intelligent a man to believe what was printed under his name in The Wall Street Journal.
In another briefing, Wang Xu, a deputy director general in China's Ministry of Commerce in Beijing, allowed that American politicians have "to show their teeth" to China. But what sense did that make, he said, when America and China rely on each other so much?
From Asia, it does seem so. In 1992 it was possible to imagine, as Ross Perot did, to tell China to kowtow to America or shove off.
China is too big for that. It supplies us with too much stuff. Though U.S. exports to China are less than imports, since 2001 they have increased fivefold — from $19 billion to more than $100 billion. China buys Boeing airplanes like King County Metro buys buses — and Wang Xu tells me it will buy plenty more.
U.S. investments here are huge. The No. 1 selling car here is Buick, assembled at a General Motors plant in Shanghai. And Microsoft's Asia headquarters, also in Shanghai, has 1,500 employees, which it pampers with free snacks, a laundry service, a health club and an on-site masseuse Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
I asked Microsoft's manager for customer service, Ker Wing-dar, about the prospect of a U.S. president dictating terms to China. Ker wanted to talk about cloud computing. I tried again, and he paused.
"Business only prospers when the relationship is good," he said.
Any relationship this big has its problems. To take one, Microsoft has long been bled here by computer piracy, a problem officials in Beijing told me the government wants to fix. Ker said that is so. "The law is there," he said, "and we have won a few cases in the last few months."
And besides, he said, with cloud computing the problem may solve itself, because you won't buy the software. You'll rent it.
I hear that over and over, and most of all from my host here, former Hong Kong Gov. Tung Chee Hwa. "We live in a world of doom and gloom," he says over lunch. "Always things are going to go wrong. Well, this place is not going to go wrong."
That is what you hear in China. Mitt Romney's statement in The Wall Street Journal about making the 2000s "an American, not a Chinese century," seems weirdly off-kilter. It is already a Chinese century. You can feel it and see it.
It can be an American century, too. Why would it have to be one or the other?
Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Ramsey is traveling on a trip with other journalists sponsored by the China-United States Exchange Foundation.