Fact check: Obama tougher on China than ad states

FROM STAFF REPORTSOctober 2, 2012 

“Fewer Americans are working today than when President Obama took office. It doesn’t have to be this way if Obama would stand up to China. China is stealing American ideas and technology – everything from computers to fighter jets. Seven times Obama could have taken action. Seven times he has said no. His policies cost us 2 million jobs.”

– Narration from Mitt Romney campaign ad

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney continues to stress President Barack Obama’s handling of U.S.-China relations, claiming with this ad that the policies of the current administration have cost the U.S. 2 million jobs.

The ad refers to China’s alleged stealing of “American ideas and technology – everything from computers to fighter jets.”

The facts

There’s little doubt that Chinese companies have infringed on U.S. intellectual property rights, just as the ad claims. China essentially acknowledged the problem by agreeing to implement stricter measures to curb piracy and counterfeiting during the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade meetings in 2010.

Not only did China promise better intellectual property protections that year, but it consented to stop discriminating against U.S. technology in government procurement, opening up a new market for America.

The 2010 agreements count as wins for the Obama administration, and they run counter to the notion that the president has stood by while China stole American innovation.

The trade commission report found that improving protection of U.S. intellectual-property rights could lead to an additional 2.1 million full-time equivalent jobs.

Again, the Obama administration has taken action on this issue. Furthermore, the Romney ad said the president “cost” 2 million jobs, as though those positions actually existed and then disappeared during his administration. The difference here is missed opportunity vs. actual loss of jobs.

As for China stealing fighter-jet technology, the Romney campaign pointed us to an April 2009 Wall Street Journal report that said “Computer spies have broken into the Pentagon’s $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project.”

The article quoted former U.S. officials saying the attacks “appear to have originated in China,” so the Romney campaign seems to be correct about the culprit. But the report noted that the infiltration dated back at least as far as 2007,” which was during the George W. Bush administration. A separate Washington Post piece on the issue said former defense officials did not believe classified information was accessed.

Bush had planned to spend $17 billion on a new initiative to help combat the online-security breach, according to the Journal article. The Obama administration decided in May 2009 to expand on that program.

Roughly two months after the Journal report, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates established a new U.S. Cyber Command to address “growing threats against the Defense Department’s computer networks.”

These actions alone contradict the notion that the current administration has sat on its hands when it comes to dealing with China. But the president has also supported the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which fell eight votes short of advancing on the Senate floor in August – 40 Republicans voted against cloture, which helped block the bill from advancing.

Currency reform goes slowly

That brings us to the “seven times Obama could have taken action.” The Romney ad mentioned only intellectual-property theft and the online-security breach, but this claim has nothing to do with those issues. It actually refers to seven opportunities the Obama administration had to apply the currency manipulator label to China.

U.S. officials believe – and economic experts generally agree – that China keeps its currency artificially low to give its exports an advantage. The Obama administration has opted against using the currency manipulator label, instead filing at least seven World Trade Organization complaints against its Asian trading partner relating to specific industries.

The WTO has largely upheld four of those complaints, but the president’s critics say this is a piecemeal approach.

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