Despite what they said in the final debate, the president doesn't think the People's Republic is an "adversary," and the former governor doesn't obviously believe it can be a "partner."
Other debate reactions will no doubt have more to say about the final encounter's horse-race implications, or the remarkable extent to which the two candidates wound up discussing domestic policy instead of the intended subject, foreign policy. But I want to draw your attention to an apparently curious formulation by Obama -- and subsequent role-reversal with Romney -- on China.
Near the end of the debate, Obama labeled China this way:
But with respect to China, China's both an adversary but also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules.
For Obama, it was a strange way of describing the country he's managed to forge a rather stable working relationship with, even if that relationship has suffered a few bumps in recent weeks. To speak of China as an adversary, and only a "potential" partner, obscures the significant steps the two countries have made when it comes to mutual foreign direct investment, as well as high-level diplomatic exchanges by public officials from both states. It also contradicts the posture of the president's administration has adopted from the beginning of his tenure, which has welcomed China's rise and stressed mutual cooperation, despite enduring disagreements between the two countries.