Mitt Romney launched a fresh criticism of China on Wednesday, using the opening statement of the U.S. presidential campaign's first debate to promise he would "crack down on China if and when they cheat."
The language is not unusual for the Republican party presidential candidate, who has promised, if elected, to designate China as a currency manipulator on his first day in office.
The man he is trying to unseat, President Barack Obama, has also vowed to get tough on China. Last month, he filed a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization, arguing that Beijing was unfairly subsidizing auto exports. It was the ninth such action taken during the Obama administration.
Both campaigns have also released a flurry of China-themed campaign advertisements to attack the other's record. The ads have led some observers to say that each side is seemingly in competition over who can use the toughest language against the emerging power, which is often blamed for U.S. job losses.
That does not sit well with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The former top diplomat, who oversaw Washington's re-engagement with Beijing 40 years ago, says both candidates are using "extremely deplorable" language in describing China as a "cheat."
Speaking at a forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington on Wednesday, Kissinger said he was "bothered" that both campaigns are "appealing to suspicion of China" in order to win votes.
Kissinger has already endorsed Mitt Romney, but he says he does not support the candidate's promise to label China a currency manipulator, adding that he believes most China experts agree with him.
A recent poll suggests Romney's strategy may be helping his candidacy. The poll, conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, found that 45 percent of registered voters think Romney would do a better job of handling the economic challenges posed by China. By comparison, only 37 percent said Obama would handle the situation better.
For their part, Chinese officials have been careful not to take sides in the U.S. presidential campaign, instead insisting that both candidates are using the China issue to win votes. Several Chinese state media editorials have recently suggested that once elected, the winning candidate will realize the need to cooperate with China, the world's second largest economy.