At tonight’s debate, how about acknowledging that China, India, and Europe exist?

Mitt and Ann Romney in China
Mitt and Ann Romney in China
Image: AP Photo / Gerald Herbert
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Editors’ note: This piece was published on the eve of the second presidential debate, at which the candidates discussed China and Libya, but not much else outside the US.

US election debates have thus far offered little recognition that the United States is just one of many nations—albeit an important one— and its economy part of a much larger global system. Tonight, President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney will field questions from undecided voters, and attention will focus on whether Obama can recover from his poor performance at the first debate. It would be ideal if the political drama played out against the background of substantive questions like these…

The topic of China has come up in the debates but largely as a talking point for public borrowing or as a trade bogey. Romney, for example, promised to crack down on China’s cheating. However, those characterizations miss the two countries’ symbiotic, importer-exporter relationship. It would be instructive to hear the candidates respond to questions like, why do you think China’s government buys US sovereign debt? Will it—and should it—continue to do so?

In more recent news, China’s dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands is a symptom of souring relations between the emerging economic superpower and the US ally. It’s a delicate foreign policy situation, and it would be great to hear how the next president would seek to stabilize the simmering dispute. 

There also hasn’t been any mentions of India, but the world’s largest democracy—with its economic potential and ties to the US—should weigh more heavily in their minds. Among other smart questions, Matt Yglesias wonders, “Can we play a helpful role in ensuring that Indian democracy delivers the goods to its population in terms of rising living standards rather than letting PRC-style authoritarianism look like the winning strategy for the developing world?”

The European crisis has been arguably the biggest economic headwind facing the United States, and yet it hasn’t popped up in the debates at all. How can the United States insulate itself from the risks of the Euro crisis and play a constructive role in resolving it? And a little more wryly, perhaps: The European Union just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Do the candidates think the recognition is deserved? Obama, a former laureate himself, is well-placed to comment.

Plenty of time has already been spent on the Middle East and Afghanistan. This is a region that for reasons good and bad commands the bulk of American attention, so we’re loathe to spend more time on it, but Dan Drezner has some good questions: “Is it possible for the United States to tie itself closer to Israel while still maintaining its popularity with newly empowered Arab populations? If so, how?” And for Romney, “Why do you believe that economic sanctions will not work against Iran but that aid conditionality will work against newly-democratizing Arab regimes?

The final huge elephant in the room: What is your policy toward the 11+ million unauthorized immigrants living and working in the United States? Neither debate addressed the topic, but immigration policy has big economic impact globally and here at home. Immigrant-founded start-ups are on the decline thanks to visa policies that are unfriendly to highly skilled workers, leading to US brain drain and irate Indian-American entrepreneur to ask“we’re going to have Silicon Valleys in other countries and wonder, how did we let this happen?” 

And while comprehensive immigration reform legislation has been stalled in Congress since 2007, the candidates should address state-level immigration policy, as Romney did in the primaries. Center for Global Development fellow Michael Clemens notes that states like Alabama are passing laws to make it illegal to rent undocumented immigrants apartments or teach their children. “Mitt Romney publicly espoused the doctrine of “self-deportation” in early 2012,” he says. “My question for both candidates is: Do you now intend to promote ‘self-deportation’?”

UPDATE: Foreign Policy proposes some tough questions of its ownDo you have any concerns about the global potash supply?

Primary Sources: Transcripts of the first presidential debate and the only vice presidential debate.