Both candidates for president are talking tough on China. And their focus isn't human rights or democracy.
"On day one, I will label China a currency manipulator," Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared during last week's debate in New York.
The former Massachusetts governor promised a Romney administration will be "cracking down on China when they cheat."
Not to be outdone, Democratic President Barack Obama told Romney: "Governor, you're the last person who is going to get tough on China."
"We have pushed them hard," Obama insisted.
Blaming China for lost jobs during a challenging economy may be popular with voters. But the worst thing that could happen to the American economy is if China's economy were to fall.
Our two nations may be on opposite sides of the globe. But our economies are intimately linked by nearly a half-trillion dollars in trade. And China's growing middle class will provide a huge source of new customers for Wisconsin and American products.
Yes, China plays games with its currency to lower the cost of its products. China has done little to stop the theft of American intellectual property. China has low labor standards.
Those issues demand engagement and diplomacy for improvement.
But the high-profile China bashing by both presidential candidates this election is counterproductive and threatens new barriers to trade that would hurt both countries.
It's not a zero-sum game. More trade among friendly nations will boost the fortunes of all.
Obama was right during last week's debate when he acknowledged that some jobs lost to low-cost manufacturers in China and elsewhere are not coming back.
But clinging to every low-wage, low-skilled job in America is not a strong strategy for the future. Moreover, automation poses a bigger threat to those jobs than foreign competition.
What America needs to compete hard for are the higher-skilled, higher-wage jobs that a slew of American manufacturers still provide. And those companies need a growing customer base that open global markets provide.
America needs to educate, innovate and invent. We need to encourage entrepreneurs.
Obama said he saved 1,000 American jobs through higher levies on imported Chinese tires. Economists at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington say 1,200 jobs may have been preserved. But they also estimated that those levies cost American consumers $1.1 billion in higher prices — or $900,000 per job, the Associated Press just reported.
More protectionism will backfire.
America and China need to build a better relationship that big talk at presidential debates won't foster.