Trade Row Risks 

That suggests a Romney White House would instead try to levy duties on China under domestic trade law, a process that could take the Commerce Department a year and likely prompt Beijing to file a complaint with the WTO that such duties are invalid under WTO rules - a case Griffith reckons Beijing is likely to win.

It could drag out a row for years, putting two-way trade at risk, especially as the new leadership of China's Communist Party - set to be unveiled at a congress starting later this week in a once-a-decade transfer of power - would likely want to demonstrate it is no pushover.

US firms operating in China already complain about unfair competition, discrimination and barriers to domestic market entry. That would be made worse if Romney kicked off a protracted trade dispute.

"I do not underestimate at all the political and economic backlash that Romney labeling China a currency manipulator would create," said the head of one US business in China, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is even less likely to be interested in claims of currency malfeasance than the WTO, as it has no obligation to respond to such complaints.

In addition, the IMF's assessment of the relative value of China's yuan, also known as the renminbi, shifted significantly in a landmark report in July in which it concluded the currency was "moderately undervalued", softening its previous view that the yuan was "substantially undervalued".

As a medium-term analysis of the currency's dynamics, the implication is that the language may not shift again for several years - especially given the IMF's relatively stable projections for China's current account surplus out to 2017.

But worse than being isolated internationally for Romney would be being seen to be out of step with his business backers and other leading Republicans - including the party's last president, George W. Bush.

Bush, along with Republican governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Perry of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida were all participants in September's US-China Investment Week to promote the United States as a natural home for billions of dollars of Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) to create American jobs.

Jay Riskind, managing director of global projects at Beijing-based private equity firm, PiYi Investment, which helped organise the event, says concerted efforts in US states and cities to secure Chinese investment provide the perfect counterpoint to campaign trail rhetoric.

"What we've seen from (individual) states is really more important than what we've heard from the campaign," Riskind said. "We have seen over and over again that states are very eager to facilitate direct investment promotion efforts."

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