Obama win may ease China tension

President Obama and Mitt Romney heaped criticism on China during the presidential campaign, with the Republican candidate advocating an especially aggressive policy stance toward Beijing.

Romney pledged to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. And if Beijing did not immediately move to float its currency, Romney said he would slap countervailing duties on Chinese exports to the U.S.

Obama was more measured in his criticism, but still quick to point out China trade cases brought by his administration.

On Tuesday, the American electorate gave Obama a second term, elected Democrats to a majority in the Senate and stuck with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. In other words -- the balance of power changed very little.

That sense of continuity should extend to Washington's relationship with Beijing. China's foreign ministry said Wednesday that Chinese President Hu Jintao had offered his congratulations to Obama, and stressed the need for cooperation that will benefit the people of both countries.

According to analysts at Nomura, Romney's defeat should reduce the risk of China pushing its currency into depreciation in retaliation for aggressive trade tactics.

"Although Obama and the U.S. Treasury will continue to press China for greater [currency] liberalization and appreciation, the pressure is likely to be more diplomatic," the analysts said.

Still, much about the relationship remains in flux. Just weeks before Election Day, the U.S. Treasury delayed the release of a report that has in the past criticized China for keeping the value of its currency artificially low. That report must be addressed in coming months -- although it is not yet known who will replace Sec. Tim Geithner at the agency's top post.

And China is about to appoint its own new leadership. The transition will set a new cast for the powerful Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party -- a small group of officials who will wield tremendous power over China's tightly-controlled economy for years to come.

"I think people here now hope Obama can become more constructive in his relationship with China," Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai, told CNN on Wednesday. "There was a lot of happiness with Obama when he was [first] elected, but people now feel he hasn't focused on China in the right way."