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Others say the White House has dealt with China as best it can. The Obama administration has brought at least seven cases against China before the World Trade Organization. The most recent was a complaint that the nation was violating the rules by discriminating against U.S. bank card suppliers. A WTO panel on Monday ruled in favor of the U.S., and White House spokesman Jay Carney cast the decision as evidence that the Obama administration has maintained a hard line.

He said the ruling was a win in the administration’s “determination to go after China’s efforts to distort global trade rules.”

It’s good politics these days, analysts say, to criticize others’ handling of what has become a delicate economic relationship with China. But words are far different from actions, and whether Mr. Romney would truly take a tougher stance isn’t a sure thing, Mr. Morici said.

“It isn’t clear that Romney won’t back down, either,” he said.