Mitt Romney's blast at President Obama's handling of dissident Chen Guangcheng's case in China was considered premature and excessive even by some conservatives. But the Republican challenger's overblown rhetoric — lamenting a "dark day for freedom and ... a day of shame for the Obama administration" — didn't surprise China experts. They've seen it before, most recently from Obama in 2008, when he was, like Romney is today, just another presidential candidate who couldn't pass up a chance to bash the incumbent as being weak on China.
In that campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama called President Bush, and, by implication, Republican nominee John McCain, a "patsy" for not being tougher with China on trade. Obama told the Alliance for American Manufacturing that he was ready to tell Beijing, "You guys keep on manipulating your currency, we are going to start shutting off access to some of our markets." Michael Swaine, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recalled Obama's comment as "the campaign-silly-season kind of thing," and said that both Obama's and Romney's remarks are part of "a grand tradition."
Indeed, it has been one of the hardiest staples of American presidential campaigns ever since the "who-lost-China" debate erupted after the Communists' 1949 victory in the Chinese civil war. "Clinton did it to Bush I. Bush II did it to Gore. Obama did it to Bush. And now Romney is doing it," said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council. "It's like a rule. You have to accuse the incumbent of being soft on China."