Last week's presidential debate on foreign policy has sharpened attention on the candidates' views on China and whether its large-scale military buildup is a threat to U.S. security.
In response to a question during the Oct. 22 debate about the rise of China and future challenges for the United States, President Obama declined to name China as the greatest future threat.
"Well, I think it will continue to be terrorist networks," Mr. Obama said.
The president said China is "both an adversary but also a potential partner" that must follow the rules.
"So my attitude coming into office was that we are going to insist that China plays by the same rules as everybody else," he said, sticking to economics and avoiding direct mention of China's military buildup.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney, in his response to the same question, also declined to name China as a major future threat. He instead asserted that the greatest national security facing the country is "a nuclear Iran."
Mr. Romney then said he regards China as having "an interest that's very much like ours in one respect, and that is they want a stable world."
According to Mr. Romney, China doesn't want war, chaos and fragmentation around the world because that would upset manufacturing and the 20 million people now moving from rural farms to cities in China who need jobs.
"So they want the economy to work and the world to be free and open," Mr. Romney said. "We can be a partner with China. We don't have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form."
However, observers note that China has not sought to promote freedom in pursuing its version of socialism in Asia and the developing world, instead siding with dictatorships and communist regimes.
"We can work with them," Mr. Romney asserted. "We can collaborate with them if they're willing to be responsible. "
Mr. Romney then expressed worries about China's view of America's financial problems, including the fact that China holds $1 trillion in U.S. debt securities. He also criticized the Obama administration's sharp cuts to the U.S. military as sending Beijing the wrong signal.
"They look at us and say, 'Is it a good idea to be with America? How strong are we going to be? How strong is our economy?'" he said.
"They look at America's commitments around the world and they see what's happening and they say, 'Well, OK, is America going to be strong?' And the answer is, 'Yes. If I'm president, America will be very strong.'"
Mr. Romney promised he would "on Day One" of his presidency declare China to be a currency manipulator and impose tariffs.
"They're stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our technology, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our goods," he said.
The reference to hacking was the only mention of the security threat posed by China, which U.S. officials have said is among the most aggressive nations engaged in military-related cyberattacks.
The president then countered Mr. Romney by saying that his administration had doubled exports to China.
As for U.S. military efforts to counter China's growing assertiveness in Asia, Mr. Obama noted his administration's "pivot" to Asia that is designed to maintain stability in the region.
"And we believe China can be a partner, but we're also sending a very clear signal that America is a Pacific power, that we are going to have a presence there," Mr. Obama said.
"We are working with countries in the region to make sure, for example, that ships can pass through, that commerce continues.
"And we're organizing trade relations with countries other than China so that China starts feeling more pressure about meeting basic international standards," the president said. "That's the kind of leadership we've shown in the region. That's the kind of leadership that we'll continue to show."
One conservative U.S. official said he is impressed with the Obama administration's tougher security-related policies toward China, which he said are more focused than the conciliatory trade- and business-oriented policies of the George W. Bush administration.
The Romney campaign website focused more on the threat from China than Mr. Romney did during the debate. It states there is a danger of a future conflict with "authoritarian China" and calls for "policies designed to encourage Beijing to embark on a course that makes conflict less likely."
"China must be discouraged from attempting to intimidate or dominate neighboring states," the campaign policy statement says.
"If the present Chinese regime is permitted to establish itself as the preponderant power in the Western Pacific, it could close off large parts of the region to cooperative relations with the United States and the West and dim hope that economic opportunity and democratic freedom will continue to flourish across East Asia."
A Romney presidency will "implement a strategy that makes the path of regional hegemony for China far more costly than the alternative path of becoming a responsible partner in the international system."
Mr. Romney also promises to counter China's accelerating military buildup with appropriate U.S. military forces "to discourage any aggressive or coercive behavior by China against its neighbors."
"Maintaining a strong military presence in the Pacific is not an invitation to conflict," the campaign statement adds. "Quite the contrary; it is a guarantor of a region where trade routes are open and East Asia's community of nations remains secure and prosperous."
A Romney administration plans to expand the U.S. naval presence in the Western Pacific and assist American partners in the region, including sales of advanced weaponry to Taiwan.
The Obama administration declined to sell the island nation advanced F-16 jet fighters amid fears of upsetting military ties with Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of China.
Mr. Romney also would confront China on its human rights abuses, something the campaign policy statement asserts the Obama administration has failed to do.
"If the United States fails to support dissidents out of fear of offending the Chinese government, we will merely embolden China's leaders," the Romney campaign said.
A report by an Asian-oriented think tank warns that China is engaged in major cyberwarfare and cyberespionage operations that threaten U.S. national security and require a coordinated U.S. response.
The report by the Project 2049 Institute says "the cyber domain is emerging as a new dimension in conflicts of the future."
Based on Beijing's political insecurities and its drive for total information awareness, China's ruling Communist Party, state authorities and the People's Liberation Army are "waging a coordinated [computer network operations] campaign against a broad range of international targets," the report says.
"Chinese cyber espionage poses an advanced persistent threat to U.S. national and economic security.
"Groups operating from [Chinese] territory are believed to be waging a coordinated cyber espionage campaign targeting U.S. government, industrial and think-tank computer networks."
A dozen groups were identified and connected to the Chinese military. The most active ones operate from Beijing and Shanghai.
Victims of the cyberattacks in the United States include U.S. government networks, the defense industry, high-technology and energy companies, think-tanks and other nongovernmental organizations, media outlets and academic institutions.
The report identified the military's General Staff Department Third Department as the main source, and said one unit in particular, the Beijing North Computing Center, is the Chinese equivalent of the Pentagon's new U.S. Cyber Command.
The report concludes: "Countering a coordinated cyber-reconnaissance campaign requires reducing the value of information through thoughtful deception, enhanced counterintelligence, greater cooperation with international partners such as Taiwan, and imposing costs through effective deterrence."
McKeon presses Obama
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, on Monday wrote to President Obama to press the White House on his recent requests for information about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Mr. McKeon, California Republican, is seeking answers from the Pentagon and the U.S. military about what the military knew and how it responded during the attack by some 40 terrorists believed tied to the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Sharia, an Islamist group that operated a camp in Benghazi. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack on the Benghazi consulate and annex,
Mr. Obama said in an interview Oct. 26 that he immediately ordered efforts at "securing personnel" under attack.
"There appears to be a discrepancy between your directive and the actions taken by the Department of Defense," Mr. McKeon says in his letter.
"As we are painfully aware, despite the fact that the military had resources in the area, the military did not deploy any assets to secure U.S. personnel in Benghazi during the hours the consulate and the annex were under attack."
Mr. McKeon asks the president to explain whom he ordered to secure U.S. personnel; how the order was transmitted; whether he ordered specific military assets into Libya; whether air assets were sent into Libyan airspace; and if he communicated with the Pentagon and military commanders.
"Members of the Committee on Armed Services are keenly concerned that any breakdown in communication that may have occurred not be repeated," Mr. McKeon says.
"Given your stated interest in transparency and sharing all relevant information with the American people and the families of our fallen, I am hopeful you can promptly address these questions."
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