HONG KONG (CNN) -- President Obama and Mitt Romney have turned China into an election-year flashpoint, with both candidates talking tough and putting some of the blame for America's economic woes on the growing eastern power.
The rhetorical fight has included barbs on manufacturing and jobs, while accusations have flown on intellectual property violations and unfair trade practices.
"China has been a currency manipulator for years and years," Mitt Romney said at last week's debate, adding that if elected, he would label China a "currency manipulator" on his first day in office.
He also accused China of "cheating" and pledged a "crack down on China."
Obama was more circumspect, but also said Romney had "invested in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing to China, and is currently investing in countries -- in companies that are building surveillance equipment for China to spy on its own folks."
As the final debate begins Monday evening, the focus will fall entirely on international affairs and China will once again be on the agenda.
Both Romney and Obama's China-related comments during the debate last week irked Donald Gross, author of "The China Fallacy."
"They're scapegoating China to shift blame to foreigners for America's serious economic problems," Gross said, referring to both campaigns. "They're actually exploiting the vulnerabilities, the insecurities that many Americans have about the economy and about the future."
"I think it's particularly dangerous to engage in that China bashing because it appeals to latent, but yet prevalent, anti-Asian prejudices that lie below the surface in many areas of the country."
The tough rhetoric portraying China as an economic boogeyman did not go unnoticed by Chinese netizens who took to Sina Weibo, the biggest microblog in the country.
"America can't solve its own problem so it always uses China as an excuse," wrote @Longhuachuntian127.
Another user, @Shoujiyonghu 3031271431 wrote: "China's stealing American jobs? Would you come here to get the job and paid one dollar per hour? Shameless (Romney)!"
Weibo user, @Guanbenweibodingduanguandian took issue with the way Romney portrayed China as a currency manipulator and wrote, "America is the true currency manipulator OK? Why blame it on China? Why don't you Americans show how your exchange rates are calculated?"
Chinese sentiment toward the U.S. has cooled in the past few years, according to polling by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.
In 2010, 68 percent of Chinese characterized their country's relationship with the U.S. as one of cooperation, while just 8 percent said it was one of hostility. Two years later, only 39 percent described ties with the U.S. in terms of cooperation, and 26 percent say they are hostile.
Although the Chinese initially supported Obama prior to his election in 2008, their enthusiasm has waned. Four years ago, 62 percent expressed confidence in his ability to do the right thing in world affairs. Today, only 38 percent of the Chinese surveyed expressed confidence.
Both Chinese and U.S. citizens find themselves in the midst of leadership transition. On November 8, just two days after the U.S. presidential elections, China will begin its once-in-a-decade leadership transition that will reshape the top ranks of the Communist Party.
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