WASHINGTON — It's open season on China in the Republican race for the presidential nomination, and Mitt Romney is leading the charge.

In a race focused on jobs, taxes and debt, China is emerging as an increasingly prominent foreign policy topic. That's largely because it is by extension an issue of economics.

Newt Gingrich and some other candidates are also painting China as the bogeyman responsible for America's economic ills.

Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is playing the foil, warning against actions that could prompt a trade war.

The debate centers on legitimate gripes over the Asian power's currency value, huge U.S. debt holdings and pirating of American technology. But those are often being melded into a simpler populist message that China is stealing jobs from the United States.