Sept. 17, 2012 -- To hear the campaigns tell it, President Obama is a softie on China "cheating" and Mitt Romney outsourced American jobs to Chinese factories.
Those are the latest attack lines the two camps are launching with just 50 days remaining in the race for the White House. But the facts behind both claims are disputable.
At a campaign event Ohio on Monday, Obama criticized Romney for sending American jobs to China by investing in Chinese companies while he was at the helm of Bain Capital, a private equity firm Romney helped found before running for Massachusetts governor.
While the line of attack is an old one, it is resurfacing from the summer campaign this week as both men refocus their attention on the economy in key battleground states like manufacturing-focused Ohio.
"Now, I understand my opponent has been running around Ohio claiming he's going to roll up his sleeves and take the fight to China," Obama said during a speech in Cincinnati today. "But here's the thing: his experience has been owning companies that were called 'pioneers' in the business of outsourcing jobs to countries like China. Pioneers! Ohio, you can't stand up to China when all you've done is send them our jobs."
According to a Boston Globe analysis of Romney's financial disclosure reports, Bain Capital invested in at least one Chinese manufacturing company while Romney was in command, a household appliance company in Dongguan, China. After leaving Bain, Romney retained a $500,000 to $1 million investment in a Bain-managed fund that bought part of a Chinese electronics company called GOME after Romney had relinquished control over the private equity firm.
During a closed-door fundraiser stealthily recorded and posted online last month, Romney references a Chinese factory that he "went to China to buy" back in his "private equity days."
He described the 12-person dormitory-style rooms lined with bunk beds where the Chinese laborers lived. He recalled the barbed-wire fences with guard towers that surrounded the factory compound where 20,000 women between the ages of 18 and 23 worked long hours assembling small appliances, earning a "pittance" to save up for marriage.
The point of his story was to demonstrate that, as Romney concluded, "95 percent of life is settled if you are born in America."
"This is an amazing land and what we have is unique and fortunately it is so special we are sharing it with the world," he said.
But for a GOP nominee who has taken a hard line against China, dubbing the country a "currency manipulator" and accusing it of snubbing intellectual property rights, the tale of his previous investments in Chinese factories is adding fodder to the Obama campaign's claim that Romney will outsource jobs to China rather than create them in America.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that the leaked video "really highlights the chutzpah he has to criticize the president."
When asked by ABC News' Jon Karl about the surreptitiously shot video, Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie handed off responsibility to Bain.
"As for Bain, you know that video is old, you can call Bain and ask them what they did in terms of investing on it, I don't have any information on that," Gillespie said.
A person familiar with Bain's activities told ABC News "we didn't buy the factory." And according to a FactCheck.org analysis in June the three other Chinese factories that the Obama campaign has highlighted as examples of Romney's outsourcing were all bought by Bain after Romney left the company in 1999. http://factcheck.org/2012/06/obamas-outsourcer-overreach/
But the Romney campaign has not been 100 percent factual either. In an ad released last week, Romney attacks President Obama for "failing" to be tough against China's "cheating" trade practices. The GOP candidateaccuses Obama of letting 582,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs disappear under his watch while China's manufacturing sector grew to the largest in the world, outpacing the United States for the first time in history.
"President Obama promised to take China 'to the mat,' but instead he has allowed China to treat the United States like a doormat," Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. "Mitt Romney will stand up for American workers, make sure China plays by the rules, protect intellectual property rights, and ensure that more jobs are created here in America."
The Obama campaign fired back on Saturday, releasing a video of Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter pointing out that the major manufacturing job losses Romney cites in the ad all took place in Obama's first six months in office, "before his policies took effect."
In Ohio on Monday, Obama sought to defend his record on China, announcing that his administration is bringing another complaint against China to the World Trade Organization claiming the country is unfairly subsidizing auto parts to draw auto manufacturing to China.
"Those subsidies directly harm working men and women on the assembly line in Ohio and Michigan and across the Midwest," Obama said at a campaign rally this morning. "It's not right; it's against the rules; and we will not let it stand."
This is the second complaint the administration has launched against China in the past two months. Both charges have come during a week that Obama has campaigned in Ohio, where 13 percent of the state's residents works in manufacturing.
In July Obama challenged the duties China collects on U.S.-made automobiles, claiming the duties are "unfair" and disproportionately harm automakers that received bailout money.
Romney responded to the president's speech Monday, saying Obama's latest World Trade Organization complaint was "too little, too late for American businesses and middle class families."
"President Obama's credibility on this issue has long since vanished," Romney said.