Does Chinese trade war loom?

Even though President Barack Obama met with Chinese President Hu Jintao last year in Hawaii, trade relations between the two countries are far from cordial.

BEIJING — In the aftermath of a U.S. presidential debate that included blistering accusations about unfair Chinese economic practices, a commentary carried by China’s state Xinhua newswire Wednesday warned that targeting its country’s products or currency would risk a trade war.

While the analysis was far from a statement of intent by senior Chinese leadership, and stopped well short of past media tirades sparked by foreign policy issues, it signaled fraying patience in Beijing with a U.S. presidential campaign that has featured criticism of China by President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

“If ‘President Romney’ was determined to keep his words by throwing punitive tariffs against Chinese products exported to the U.S. market on Day One, then China perhaps would be forced to fight back, and then his administration would be very likely to be on its way to a global trade war,” said the item, which was attributed to a writer named Liu Chang and posted on the news service’s English-language website.

“Such a scenario would ultimately bury his other promises, not least the one to jumpstart the sluggish U.S. economic growth.”

Chinese news organizations have published several pieces lately complaining about U.S. “China-bashing” this election season.

During Tuesday night’s debate, the word “China” came up 21 times, according to a transcript, as Obama and Romney alternated between pledging to confront the nation and criticizing each other for having failed to do so.

The specific quote to which Xinhua was referring was one by Romney in which he said, “China has been a currency manipulator for years and years and years. And the president has a regular opportunity to label them as a currency manipulator, but refuses to do so. On Day One, I will label China a currency manipulator.”

Although the United States has a massive trade deficit with China in goods and services — $282 billion last year — the value of the Chinese currency, the yuan, against the dollar has been increasing, undercutting the argument that Beijing should be sanctioned for keeping its value artificially low to make its products cheaper.