'China bashing' a political game

United States politician Rick Larsen said he hopes China understands that the so-called "China-bashing" in the presidential campaign is simply a reality of elections - a political process that is important in the US.

Both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, have talked tough on China during their campaigns, accusing China of unfair trade practices and stealing American jobs.

"My advice to folks is always: Take a deep breath, the election is almost over," Larsen said.

As co-chair of the US-China Working Group, a group established in 2005 to raise awareness in Congress of US-China issues, Larsen works with, as he puts it: "panda huggers, dragon slayers and even panda slayers - folks who are really extreme against China".

Larsen believes the US has to take a multi-pronged approach toward China. Focusing on just one aspect will hurt the whole relationship.

"We have many relations with China, not just one. A good policy toward China tries to work all of those relationships. If you just focus on one, as you might hear in the fall (election), we do that to the detriment to US interests," said Larsen, a Democrat who is now serving his sixth term in the House of Representatives, representing the state of Washington.

Larsen said the US-China relationship is a foreign policy issue that has a direct overlap with economic issues in the US that people connect to in their everyday lives.

"It is not just the foreign policy aspect, but the economic aspect, trade aspect - what it means for US jobs and for US trade policy. As a result, that plays out more so than other foreign policy issues in this presidential campaign," he said.

Larsen is not a fan of TV coverage of China in the US, which he claims is often biased. "I don't watch a lot of that because it doesn't do anything good to a lot of things I am working on," said the 47-year-old.

However, Larsen said the US military rebalance in Asia, a hot topic in both China and the US, is not to contain China.

"We are not going to contain China. You can't. Not only do we have no interest, it's also impossible. So why do you bring that up, it can't happen." he said.

He described the rebalancing as the third step following diplomacy and trade and the economic relationship, which has been leading the way for the US in Asia.

Larsen said he believes the US stance on the South China Sea is about freedom of navigation, freedom of the seas as well as security and stability. Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies based in Washington, implied in a talk two weeks ago, that some of the US policies in the region might have unintentionally emboldened countries such as the Philippines. Having made seven trips to China over the last six or seven years and having attended many meetings with top Chinese and US officials, business leaders and academics, Larsen said he knows a lot about China now, although he barely speaks Mandarin.

However, he said he sees the need for America's next generation to learn both the language and the culture.

"In the United States, kids who are learning Chinese are learning China. The cultural aspect is as important. We are not just sending our kids to China to learn Chinese, it's more about learning cultural norms, how to do business, how to do pleasure and how to do anything," said Larsen, who spoke highly of the Obama administration's 100,000 Strong Initiative to send 100,000 American students to China over a four-year period.

On Chinese foreign direct investment in the US, Larsen said he believes the amount is still not enough to make a broad impact because it is still less than 1 per cent of the total FDI in the US.

Larsen said while different cultures and values are still a hurdle, he advised Chinese investors to try to understand the importance of attracting positive attention in the US.

He recalled a meeting in Shanghai in 2011 with a Chinese entrepreneur who said he had created 500 jobs in Michigan. Larsen asked if he had talked to the local Congressman.

"No, why would I do that?" the Chinese businessman asked.

"Because it's an auto parts company in Michigan. That's why," Larsen said.

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