China has become an increasingly important issue in the United States presidential election, with both President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney pledging to take a strong stand against the rapidly growing Asian power.
The issue has taken on greater prominence as America's economy, the largest in the world, struggles to recover from a recession and China, the world's second largest economic power, continues to engage in what some say are questionable trade practices.
Romney, the Republican Party candidate, has been particularly outspoken, promising to counter what he says are abusive Chinese practices in the areas of trade, intellectual property, and currency valuation. He has vowed to designate China as a currency manipulator, a label which could lead to sanctions.
President Obama, a Democrat who originally sought deeper ties with Beijing, has in recent months taken a tougher tone on China. While he refuses to call the country a currency manipulator, he has strongly criticized Chinese economic policies and brought a series of high-profile trade disputes against China.
Assertiveness seen as challenge
Another concern is China's military buildup and increased assertiveness in defending its maritime claims in energy-rich areas such as the South China Sea. Earlier this year, Mr. Obama announced what he called a strategic "pivot" toward the Pacific region. Many saw the move as an effort to contain China's rise, though officials in Washington deny the claim.
But a senior Romney national security adviser has criticized that policy in a new article in Foreign Affairs magazine. Aaron Friedberg, a co-chair on Romney's Asia-Pacific working group, says the Obama administration's approach lacks "serious substance," saying the White House should admit the "obvious fact" that the policy is aimed at China.
While Friedberg acknowledged that both the U.S. and China would benefit from a healthy bilateral relationship, he accused Washington of engaging in "diplomatic happy talk" that exaggerated the accomplishments of the administration's efforts to promote better relations.
Though Friedberg was not speaking officially for the Romney campaign, his comments are consistent with those recently made on the campaign trail by Romney and his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan.
Last week, Ryan accused Obama of failing to deliver on his promises to "go to the mat" get tough with China to stop its questionable trade practices. Instead, Ryan said China has treated Barack Obama like a "doormat." Ryan promised to crack down on what he called China's "cheating."
And at a recent campaign stop in Florida, Romney mocked Beijing's plans to send an unmanned rocket to the moon, saying that the U.S. has already beaten China to the destination with a manned spacecraft sent there 43 years previous.
Beijing dismisses remarks
Beijing has dismissed such statements by both candidates as irresponsible and politically motivated, and has suggested they could hurt relations between the world's two largest economies.
But observers say it is common for U.S. presidential candidates to challenge the incumbent on his dealings with China. But what is less clear is the extent to which those candidates would alter one of the United States' most important and complicated bilateral relationships.