Walker on Monday called for President Barack Obama to cancel Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United States, urging the president to show "some backbone."
But Walker critics were quick to note that not only did the governor and presidential contender meet with Xi in China during his first overseas trade mission in 2013, his flagship jobs agency has two trade venture trips to China scheduled in 2016.
Those trips are designed to bring businesses together to spur foreign direct investment, increase exports and promote Wisconsin businesses and products. China is Wisconsin's largest trading partner outside of North America, according to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
"In a lot of states in America, we’d like to have that kind of slow growth they are projecting" even in some of China’s slower-expanding regions, Walker said in Shanghai, Forbes reported in 2013.
"Holding China accountable for its egregious actions doesn’t negate the importance of trade," Walker spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in an email. "Rather than high honors and unnecessary ceremony for President Xi, President Obama should be focused on real engagement. As the governor’s statement says, 'There's serious work to be done rather than pomp and circumstance.'"
A Walker aide noted that promoting Wisconsin businesses to Chinese companies and government leaders is not the same as ceremoniously honoring the country's president.
Walker's statement came in the midst of plummeting stock prices in the U.S., a result of global concerns tied to China's economic slowdown. He said Obama should focus on "holding China accountable over its increasing attempts to undermine U.S. interests."
"Given China’s massive cyberattacks against America, its militarization of the South China Sea, continued state interference with its economy and persistent persecution of Christians and human rights activists, President Obama needs to cancel the state visit," Walker said. "There's serious work to be done rather than pomp and circumstance. We need to see some backbone from President Obama on U.S.-China relations."
Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, thinks Walker has another motive for being tough on China, calling the move a "ham-handed dodge."
"Scott Walker desperately wanted to change the media focus on his three positions in a week as he tries to chase Donald Trump's race to the sewer, proving again Scott Walker will say and do anything to win a political campaign," Ross said, referring to Walker's apparent shift among three different positions on birthright citizenship in a matter of a week.
Walker's move earned praise from Michael Mazza, a research fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute. In a column for The National Interest, Mazza said Walker's comments could make U.S.-China relations a key issue of the 2016 presidential campaign.
"Canceling the visit would make for a significant response to China’s recent transgressions, and one that Beijing would take seriously. Importantly, cancellation of the visit would be in accord with American interests and American values," Mazza wrote.
Ross countered that the American Enterprise Institute receives substantial funding from the conservative Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, whose president and CEO Michael Grebe is Walker's presidential campaign chairman. Grebe also served as chairman for Walker's two gubernatorial bids and his recall campaign.
A WEDC spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agency's scheduled China trips.