WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama plans to create a U.S. government task force designed to monitor China for possible trade and other commercial violations as part of a larger White House effort to get more assertive with Beijing this election year, people familiar with the matter said.
The group, called the Enforcement Task Force, will aim to enforce U.S. trade rules. Despite the generic name, officials said the group is specifically meant to target China. It will include officials from various government agencies, including the Treasury Department, the Commerce Department, the Energy Department and U.S. Trade Representative’s office.
Mr. Obama is expected to announce the initiative during or around his State of the Union address later this month. The committee—and Mr. Obama’s broader effort to be tougher on China over currency, market access and intellectual property rights—also are expected to be on the White House’s agenda when Vice President Xi Jinping of China visits Washington next month.
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Part of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s mission during a trip to Beijing on Tuesday and Wednesday is to discuss the administration’s plans with China’s leaders, officials said.
The formation of the task force has significant political implications for the 2012 election. It is a large plank in Mr. Obama’s broader intent to challenge China more, an effort he telegraphed during a trip through Asia last November.
China has emerged as an important issue in the Republican presidential candidates’ battle. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has argued the U.S. needs to get tougher on Beijing. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama’s former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, who also is running for the GOP nomination, has urged more caution in the U.S. approach. The two sparred over the issue in debates this past weekend, with Mr. Romney criticizing Mr. Huntsman’s service in the Obama administration.
Confronting China has cross-party appeal. Democrats, particularly organized labor, would like the U.S. to get tougher on Beijing. That stance also resonates among Republicans and business owners, who have expressed concerns about Beijing having an unfair economic advantage.
The White House declined to comment on the task force, the details of which officials said were still being worked out.
Members of Congress have increasingly pressured the White House to take a tougher tack with China. Lawmakers heap blame on the country for hurting U.S. employers and GOP presidential candidates criticize the administration’s engagement with the world’s second-largest economy. U.S. businesses have been pressing policy makers to pressure China to protect American jobs and intellectual property.
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