Romney counters foreign investment jab by highlighting Chinese firms in Obama pension fund

Mitt Romney tried to turn the tables on President Obama Tuesday night when, in response to criticism about his own foreign investments, the Republican nominee pointed out that Obama is investing abroad as well.

"Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?" Romney asked.

Obama dispatched the question with a quip: "I don't look at my pension, it's not as big as yours so it doesn't take as long."

But Romney was apparently correct in pointing out that Obama does have investments in Chinese companies and elsewhere outside the United States. Though Obama seemed taken aback by the claim, Romney was referring to both direct and indirect investments.

Asked to substantiate the nominee's claim, the Romney campaign pointed primarily to the president's Illinois pension fund.

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According to Obama's latest financial disclosure form, the assets in that account are between $50,000 and $100,000. And the 2011 report from the Illinois State Board of Investment listed dozens of Chinese companies from China Mobile to China Oilfield Services.

"Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies," Romney told Obama Tuesday night.

It's unclear how many of those Chinese firms are in Obama's specific portfolio. The board estimates that across all its funds, 19 percent of the assets are in foreign securities.

The Obama campaign has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The president's financial disclosure forms also show he has several Vanguard 500 Index Fund accounts, representing more indirect foreign investment. That mutual fund invests in a slew of companies with operations all over the world, including those with operations in China -- like Apple, General Electric and Wal-Mart.

Obama would hardly be alone in those kinds of investments. But Romney was trying, in their brief exchange, to take some of the sting out of the Obama campaign narrative against him -- by demonstrating how common it is for investments to draw on a global pool of companies.

Romney's investments, of course, are much bigger.

In perhaps the most controversial example, The New York Times reported earlier this year that Bain-owned company Uniview Technologies produces cameras and software that help the Chinese government with surveillance. Obama cited that investment in one of his snappiest comebacks of the night at Tuesday's debate.

"When he talks about getting tough on China, keep in mind that Gov. Romney invested in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing to China, and is currently investing in countries -- in companies that are building surveillance equipment for China to spy on its own folks," Obama said. "That's -- Governor, you're the last person who's going to get tough on China."

The debate Tuesday contained the usual back-and-forth between the candidates over Romney's tax rate.

Obama at one point claimed Romney, in his "sketchy" tax plan, was planning to protect low rates on investment income and suggested Romney has money to gain by keeping it that way.

"The fact that he only has to pay 14 percent on his taxes when a lot of you are paying much higher -- he's already taken that off the board, capital gains are going to continue to be at a low rate so we -- we're not going to get money that way," Obama said.

Republicans, though, point out that Romney has donated a lot of that money he's left with to charity -- about $4 million in 2011, or 30 percent of his income.

The Obamas gave $172,000, or 22 percent of their income, in 2011.