Washington: A potent US free-trade group that opposes legislation to punish China over its alleged currency manipulation pressed republican presidential hopefuls to say where they stand on the bill.
"Voters deserve to know where the republican candidates stand on the important issue of trade with China," club for growth president Chris Chocola said in a statement.
The legislation, which enjoys democratic and republican support, would make it easier for US firms to seek retaliatory tariffs against Chinese imports if Beijing is found to keep its currency and thus its goods artificially cheap.
"What do they say to arguments that imposing tariffs would be devastating to economic growth and would harm America's recovery? What do they say to arguments that starting a trade war with China would kill jobs, not create them?" says Chocola.
Leading republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney has called China an "economic threat" and vowed to designate Beijing a "currency manipulator," a step that can trigger retaliatory US sanctions.
But top Romney rival and Texas governor Rick Perry's campaign took the opposite tack, with spokesman Mark Miner telling AFP: "This is a free trade issue and Governor Perry does not support this bill."
Republican representatives Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul did not respond to a request for comment.
Former US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman told Fox News Channel this week that he "would sign it simply because you need to keep pressure on China" while warning that Beijing could retaliate.
"You've got to remember, you take action against China, you can expect them to rebut that action with commensurate tariffs," he says. "During a recession, you don't want a trade war."
Still, "the fact that it will move through our Congress will be some leverage, and the Chinese will take note of that. And at least it will be a tool that we can take to the negotiating table," he says.