US Democrats talk tough with China

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Dec 05, 2007

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Democratic presidential hopefuls on Tuesday vowed to crank up US pressure on China, accusing Beijing of flooding America with defective toys, ignoring global trade rules and abusing human rights.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and other top candidates carved out populist ground on Sino-US relations in a radio debate in Iowa, which hosts the first nominating showdown in the 2008 race in less than a month.

They also accused Beijing of manipulating its currency -- to the detriment of the US economy, and warned long-term US influence with China had eroded under President George W. Bush.

"We have to be tougher negotiators with China. They are not enemies, but they are competitors of ours," said Illinois Senator Obama, in the live debate carried on National Public Radio.

"I actually believe that China will modify its behavior if we actually are tough in our negotiations," he said in the debate in Iowa.

Senator Joseph Biden, who is mounting a long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination, warned he would halt the import of dangerous Chinese toys after a string of safety scares and product recalls.

"I would end, flat, bang, no importation of those toys," he said, adding he would use World Trade Organization rules to get safety inspectors into China.

Senator Christopher Dodd, meanwhile accused China of manipulating its currency "to the tune of 40 percent" and employing "slave labor" in its factories.

Candidates also hammered China over human rights.

"I think you have to call them on it," said Clinton, recalling her trip as first lady to Beijing to make a speech at an international women's conference in 1995.

"The Chinese actually respect us if we actually call them on their misbehavior," said Clinton, adding that she had played a key role in framing the engagement policy towards Beijing in her husband Bill Clinton's administration.

"As the next president, I would make it very clear what we expect from China and use every tool at our disposal to try to change behavior."

Last month, Clinton engaged in a sharp exchange of words with China, after Beijing called her criticism of its toys trade "slander."

Several candidates warned Americans that they should buy American goods, rather than cut-price equivalents from China, to boost US industry, and prevent the flight of American jobs abroad.

"Buy America, or bye-bye America," said long-shot candidate congressman Dennis Kucinich.

Presidential hopefuls often resort to 'China-bashing' on the campaign trail, but tend to soften their rhetoric once they get into office, constrained by decades of US foreign policy and vital interests in Asia and the wider world.

While Democrats have largely hit out at China, Republicans have barely addressed vital US relations with the emerging superpower.

But in an appearance in Iowa last month, Republican candidate Rudolph Giuliani outlined how he would deal with Beijing.

He warned China was a "great challenge" to the United States, though he backed continued diplomatic engagement.

But he also called for an increase in US military strength to deter China from ever mounting a security challenge to America, and said he would push Beijing faster on introducing political freedoms.

"China is a great challenge to the United States, and maybe one of the most important challenges," Giuliani told an audience of mainly students at Iowa State University.

"We will be the two great economies in the world. The more we make sure China's rise is peaceful, the better it is going to help the United States," Giuliani said in response to a question from a Chinese student.

"We should remain substantially engaged with China."