National Public Radio presidential debate

Number two, when I was visiting Africa, I was told by a group of businessmen that the presence of China is only exceeded by the absence of America in the entire African continent. And it indicates the unwillingness of our administration to think strategically about other countries beyond the war on terror.

Number three, we have to be tougher negotiators with China. They are not enemies, but they are competitors of ours. And on the economic front, on trade issues, on issues in importation, we have not been the best negotiators, and oftentimes we're negotiating on behalf of — on behalf of Wall Street, as opposed to on behalf of Main Street

NORRIS: I heard you say "less leverage." Who has more leverage at this point?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, right now the United States is still the dominant superpower in the world. But we have to — the next president can't be thinking about today; he or she also has to be thinking about 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now. And if we continue on current trends, without dealing with the problems that we have, economically, and unless we are engaging in the world more effectively, then our influence is going to slip.

NORRIS: Representative Kucinich, very quickly.

REP. KUCINICH: Yes. And I may be the only one up here who actually voted against China trade because of the concerns I had that the U.S. was not going to be able to maintain its manufacturing base, which is central to maintaining a middle class. What we've seen is that without solid trade policies, we're undermined. Without a strength-through-peace doctrine of rejecting war as an instrument of policy, we're going to keep borrowing money from China. Let us not forget we're borrowing money from China to finance the war in Iraq. And in addition to that, the speculation on Wall Street has weakened our economy.

We need a policy of constructive engagement with China, stop the arms race with them, work to make sure we have a global climate change treaty with China, get them to transition out of nuclear and coal and oil. You know, I'm talking about a whole new direction that's based on a doctrine of strength through peace, and I have a voting record up here to back it up, unlike some of my esteemed colleagues.

NORRIS: Senator Clinton, do we need them more than they need us?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, your question about leverage is related to that — the second question. We currently still have more leverage, but it doesn't really count because we're not using it. We have handicapped ourselves because of the irresponsible fiscal policies pursued by the Bush economic direction, but we've also, unfortunately, seen an incoherent foreign policy.

So until we set our fiscal house back in order and until we understand that we have to have a strategic relationship with China, it's going to be very difficult for us to use whatever leverage we have. And I fear that if we don't start taking steps to demonstrate that we are back in charge of our fiscal destiny, that we do have a coherent diplomatic approach toward China, China will continue to gain leverage over us.

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