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China Becomes Featured Topic at Presidential Debate

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (L) listens during the second U.S. presidential debate in Hempstead, New York, October 16, 2012.
U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney competed over who would be tougher on China during Tuesday's presidential debate in New York.

Unlike the previous debate, China was a central theme for both candidates, with each eager to show they would do a better job cracking down on Beijing's trade practices which they save have cost American jobs.

As he has done on the campaign trail, Romney again accused Obama of being weak on China and reiterated his promise to label Beijing a "currency manipulator, a designation that would allow for tougher tariffs on Chinese goods.

"The president has a regular opportunity to label them as a currency manipulator, but refuses to do so. On day one, I will label China a currency manipulator, which will allow me as president to be able to put in place, if necessary, tariffs where I believe that they are taking unfair advantage of our manufacturers," said Romney.

Obama shot back, saying that Romney is "the last person who's going to get tough on China," and accused him of investing in companies that have outsourced jobs to China.

Romney, apparently ready for the accusation, responded later by calling on the president to "look at your pension," saying Obama had also invested in Chinese companies.

Romney: "Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?"
Obama: "You know, I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours so it doesn't take as long,"
Romney: "Let me give you some advice. Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States. You also have investments through a Cayman's trust,"

Romney repeatedly returned to the topic of China during the heated 90-minute debate. He promised that a Romney administration would not only crack down on China, but also make it more attractive for American businesses who have outsourced jobs there to bring them back home.

The White House has defended its record on dealing with China's trade practices, saying it has brought several trade cases against Beijing. But it has warned against provoking a trade war with China, saying less heated rhetoric has been more effective at encouraging China to make progress on trade issues, such as the alleged undervaluing of its currency.

The issue is particularly important in several important "swing" states such as Ohio, where many are concerned about the loss of manufacturing jobs to outsourcing and foreign competition. Both campaigns have filled the airwaves with China-themed ads promising to crack down on Beijing economically.

China is likely to remain a central issue in the presidential campaign. An entire 15-minute segment in the third and final presidential debate on October 22 is scheduled to be dedicated to "The Rise of China and Tomorrow's World."