In this combo made from file photos, President Barack Obama, speaks at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop in Wilmington.

Beijing - China's top newspaper slammed both US presidential candidates on Thursday for playing the “China card” in their election campaigns, saying the real economic problems confronting the United States were being ignored in the process.

In a strongly worded commentary, Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily said it was a “tragedy” for US politics that the country's foreign relations were being sucked in to the domestic presidential election.

“It's not hard to see that in their attacks on each other, Obama and Romney are in competition to see 'who can be toughest on China', and not who can have more strategic vision on Sino-US ties, or who can strengthen cooperation to resolve US economic problems,” the paper wrote.

“Without a doubt, this is the wrong direction to go in, and exposes for all to see the strategic short-sightedness of both party's candidate.”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has repeatedly pledged to get tougher with China on its trade and currency practices, including pledging to quickly declare China a currency manipulator if elected.

President Barack Obama has accused Romney, who founded and led private equity firm Bain Capital, of outsourcing jobs to both India and China.

The People's Daily said the reason for the attacks on China had more to do with the United States' own dire economic issues, including having yet to fully exit the shadow of the world financial crisis.

The United States should take brave steps to expand production and shift its reliance on consumer spending rather than concentrate on beating up on China, it added.

“Talking down on China and coming up with all sorts of trade protectionism is a cowardly way to avoid these problems,” the paper wrote. “Playing the 'China card' is not inspired, and cannot save the US economy.”

The commentary was published under the pen name “Zhong Sheng”, meaning “Voice of China”, which is often used to give the paper's view on foreign policy issues.

However, it expressed hope that the candidates were really only playing to the crowd, and that once the election was over sanity would prevail.

“No matter who wins, once they get into the White House they will have to return to reality, as in the final analysis the United States needs China's cooperation on a great number of issues. But those vicious words will be a millstone.” - Reuters