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Shanghai Residents Discuss U.S. Presidential Debate


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

America's presidential debates have long inspired debate parties and media coverage that brings together American voters to offer their impressions. This week, we've expanded that concept all the way to China. NPR invited eight people to watch the debate at our bureau in Shanghai and then asked them for their opinions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the candidates' on China generated some interesting reactions.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Our panel ranged in age from 24 to 40. All were college educated, working white collar jobs here in downtown Shanghai. More than half favored President Obama. They cited his more populist tone and less confrontational stance towards China. While some admired Governor Romney's business smarts, they felt some of his criticisms of China were political and overblown. They cited this one.

MITT ROMNEY: On day one I will label China a currency manipulator, which will allow me as president to be able to put in place, if necessary, tariffs where I believe that they are taking unfair advantage of our manufacturers.

ALEX SHI: Do not try to find any scapegoat.

LANGFITT: Alex Shi works as an administrator in a manufacturing company. He says America's economic problems are huge, homegrown, and unrelated to his country's currency.

SHI: Just try to put your own fiscal house in places. Try to look into your own problems.

LANGFITT: Chinese viewers also singled out this comment by the former Massachusetts governor.

ROMNEY: What I will do as president is make sure it's more attractive to come to America again. This is the way we're going to create jobs in this country. Now, we're going to have to make sure that as we trade with other nations, that they play by the rules, and China hasn't.

STELLA XIE: My name is Stella Xie. I work for the China Economic Review as a researcher.

LANGFITT: Xie says Mr. Romney seems to blame China for the nature of globalization, low wage jobs migrating to low-wage countries.

XIE: I mean the past, like, U.S. has these issues over manufacturing job with Japan and with other like Asian countries. So they have a, you know, argument with China at this point. But like maybe 10 years later they have this same issue with Vietnam, with Cambodia, as these jobs shift out from China, you know, out to other countries.

LANGFITT: Governor Romney did hit home with U.S. domestic issues that also resonate here in China, including this one.

ROMNEY: Well, what you're seeing in this country is 23 million people struggling to find a job. And a lot of them, as you say, Candy, have been out of work for a long, long, long time.

LANGFITT: Although China has seen staggering growth over the past three decades, unemployment is a big problem here, in part because the ranks of educated workers are swelling.

John is a 27-year-old engineer who asked to withhold his Chinese name because he feared even discussing American politics could get him trouble with the government here. John said landing a job remains tough. Even the Master's degree he received a few years back didn't help much.

JOHN: Post graduate student, it's hard to find a job. (Foreign language spoken)

LANGFITT: John says unemployment isn't just a problem for the U.S. and President Obama. It's a problem the whole world faces.

Overall, people found President Obama's tone on China more measured.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Candy, there are some jobs that are not going to come back.

LANGFITT: And Stella Xie thought Romney's criticisms suggested he'd be harder for China to work with.

XIE: I think it more reflects like his, you know, ingrained mistrust with China. And I think for future like if China and the U.S., we both want to grow our economies, there has to be trust.

LANGFITT: Others thought Mr. Romney's attacks were more designed to win the election. Andrew Liu, an accountant in the finance industry and a Romney supporter, thought the Republican nominee would take a more practical approach and try to enhance business with China once he makes it to the White House.

ANDREW LIU: (Through translator) Traditionally, Republicans are focused on the economy and are more pragmatic. When it comes to U.S.-China relations, they attach more importance to trade.

LANGFITT: In the end, everybody seemed to enjoy the debate. They especially liked seeing ordinary citizens question the people who want to lead them about the most pressing issues of the day. It's something they all said they wished they could do here in China.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.