Romney Says U.S. Has Basis To Cut Off Open Trade With China (VIDEO)

WATCH: Romney Says U.S. Has Basis To Cut Off Open Trade With China

WASHINGTON -- There has been no shortage of China-bashing in the brief course of the Republican presidential primary, highlighted by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann riling up a debt-fearing conservative crowd with the memorable double entendre: "Hu's your daddy!"

On Tuesday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appeared to ratchet up the rhetoric beyond even that one-liner, suggesting that there was a basis for ending U.S. trade relations with China altogether.

"I'm not sure, whether the intellectual property you have is regularly being stolen by competition around the world, but in the case of China, for instance, we've sat idly by as they have stolen -- year after year -- intellectual property: Designs, patents and so forth," Romney told a crowd member at a Mosiac Technology Business Roundtable in Salem, N.H. "And I don't see how you can have a trade relationship, on an open basis, with another nation if they're stealing a large part of what it is you sell."

"You go to China," he added, "and software, for instance, is regularly being pirated, entertainment is being pirated, and -- not necessarily by the government -- but by enterprises that are managed and regulated by the government and -- and that's just something we can't continue to allow."

The comments, spotlighted by a HuffPost reader, exemplify the type of heated China-bashing and creeping free trade skepticism that has become a more prominent feature of, really, both parties. Even Republican presidential candidate Jon Hunstman, who served as ambassador to China under President Barack Obama, has begun adopting far tougher rhetoric about the need for the country to revalue the yuan.

But it certainly is a different tune for Romney, who after a self-financed trip to China and other East Asian countries in 2006, declared that America needed to “reach out to China and to chart out a course that is consistent with a free economy and a free society." In his second run for the Republican nomination, he has been far more disapproving of U.S. relations with China, criticizing both lax trade standards and currency manipulation by the latter.

Suggesting that there is a basis for cutting off trade with China, however, is far more aggressive than demanding that their currency be strengthened or trade relations be revamped. The United States imported more than $364 billion in Chinese goods in 2010, while exporting some $92 billion; turning off that spigot would force a massive, potentially disruptive, economic adjustment.

Reached for comment, Romney's top spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom didn't back off the comment. But he didn't exactly reiterate it either.

"Part of the economic challenge we face as a nation is competing globally with the rapidly developing countries of Asia," he said. "We should welcome the competition with China, but it has to be on fair terms."

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