In response to the news of American presidential candidate Barack Obama's stance on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but prior to this week's round of presidential primaries, political blogger Michael Anti wrote a few words on his dusty MSN blog on what a President Obama would mean for China in ‘Meet Obama's America of (undpredictable) change‘:
This writer is no fan of Obama's. In fact, if this were a global election for the American president, the electoral vote of the China constituency would probably be cast for Hillary or McCain. Unlike the judgment made by Alexander Brenner on Reuters' Chinese website, we think the chance that the Chinese will support Obama is quite small, and never mind why we “should”.
Even though Hillary has also been severely critical of trade with China throughout the campaign battle, it was none other than her husband Clinton who opened the door for China's entry into the World Trade Organization, who personally enacted NAFTA, and Hillary herself, for her ties to the outsourcing industry in India, who has been accused by her opponent as “the Senator from Punjab”. In the wave of antiglobalization which has swept the world, the Chinese are nowhere to be seen; in reality this is because, regardless of if it's the Chinese government or free civic forces, all have benefited greatly from this new global game. The ideas of marketization, implementation of freedom of information and the sense of honor of being a responsible member of the global community that globalization has brought with it, have let China, with its 2,000 year-old autocratic tradition, to start putting an end to clashes with world standards; compared to the older generation, the globalized generation of Chinese youth have far more opportunities to enjoy world-class freedoms. In this sense, for the Chinese, who repay kindness with kindness, the Clinton Dynasty is by no means a negative combination.
Even though McCain is a Republican veteran, there are no barriers for Chinese people in accepting this. China's presence in the middle east region, be it in regards to economic benefit or strategic benefit, lacks the kind of interrelatedness that Europe, America or Russia there have. For this reason, conveniently maintaining neutrality is the smart choice. The American government under Bush's war with Iraq, although having been met with opposition by people in many countries, and with Americans themselves having gradually grown weary of it, has since the beginning had little relevance to China. In the period since Mao Zedong's ideas of strategic revolution were laid to rest, China's diplomatic views have been to consistently maintain a cautious and realistic geopolitics, and upheld its duty as the largest country in the region: not excessively resisting American pragmatic super-hegemony, and keeping to its obligation as a “responsible stakeholder”. During the Republican administration under Bush, neither China's national interests nor the interests of its people have suffered any harm as a result of American policy; on the contrary, many academics feel that the war in Iraq has tied up much of America's national strength, allowing China to be of help on the North Korea Problem and strengthening strategic sympathy between China and the US. On the Taiwan Problem, the Bush administration has explicitly opposed Taiwan independence, going as far as to surpass the Clinton Democrats' commitment to China.
McCain is an anti-communist veteran of the Vietnam War, he'll certainly intensify attacks against the Chinese government for human rights issues. But for China, growing amidst criticisms, this might in the long run not be such a bad thing. Spielberg's criticism of the Beijing Olympics because of Sudan, although while in Chinese eyes is something quite inexplicable, just illustrates that while China today bears influence on globalization, it still doesn't quite possess a globalized mindset; although, when the Chinese government decided because of this to steadily increase pressure on the Sudanese government, it can't but be said that Spielberg's criticisms, objectively speaking, brought about progress on China's way of thinking. In contrast, McCain's views on trade are orthodox Republican: embracing free trade and hoping to eliminate trade quotas between China and the US. A new hawk president like him, China would have no problems in accepting.
Opinion polls continue to the confirm a trend; not only will Obama defeat Hillary, but come the general election campaign battle in November, possibly even McCain and a new legend will be written, that of the first African-American president in American history. Regardless of what this does for Americans and people from other places around the world, however, what it can do for the Chinese people remains unpredictable.
First off, Obama has always opposed globalization of trade. He opposes trade with China, believing that not only is China exporting poisonous goods to America, but also taking away American jobs. He opposes outsourcing to India, as a way to attack Hillary. As he comes close to securing a victory in the inner-party election, as he needlessly continues to play dirty to get votes, tossing out the idea of renegotiating NAFTA has surprised the well-off neighboring country Canada. If there could be said to be a few guaranteed winners from globalization, obviously America would be in the first camp. For a winner to oppose globalization, not only is it a sort of logically confused strategy, even more it's friction against the main source of both America and China's future interests. Although it's completely possible that after the election he'll have no choice but to continue with the previous government's trade policies, this would still be a broken election promise, so clues as to how Obama plans to deal with the pressure of The Obama Myth remain to be seen.
Next is the shifting psychological projection of Obama many Americans have, which will inevitably lead to changes in global diplomacy; although the Asian region won't be the primary target for change, the game rules for dominant powers are guaranteed to feel impact, and what these changes will mean for China also remains unknown. What's more critical is that China be good at dealing with a US with a clear strategy, as it has had from Clinton through to Bush. Only this way has China been able to relax and adopt a clear strategy and has trust been built between the powers, allowing them to get along despite differences. Easing of the situation along the Taiwan Strait, for example, is connected to this kind of clarity and trust.
But Obama by nature is a master at strategic ambiguity, and has yet to come clear on a principled bottom line. This is related to his experience of coming into his own in mainstream society while identifying as half African-American—he's good at not offending any inherently hostile interest groups. Within American's political framework, the President and the President's executive administration directly control policy on diplomacy, foreign trade and conflict. For this reason, an Obama's America could be the America with which China is extremely unfamiliar, and could just as much be an America with which the world is extremely unfamiliar. When President Clinton said that trade and politics need to be kept separate, China ought to have been able to believe that this represented the future longterm trade honeymoon between China and the US; when President Bush said that he didn't support Taiwan independence, the Chinese people were able to confidently say that this represented that period of American government's unchanging position on the Taiwan Problem, to the extent of seeing criticism of President Chen direct from the US State Department. When the future President Obama says A, will we need to be looking to see if on separate occasions he had said B, if what he's really thinking is C, and but what he really ends up doing is D?
As Chinese people, at the same time that we'd be applauding historical progress in America for having chosen an African-American president, it's more important that we look to the interests of the Chinese nation itself. Democracy in essence is the internal consensus of a national community, so the democratic achievements of others are not inevitably in our interest. We've always felt that in China-US relations are of the utmost importance for prosperity, happiness and democratic growth for the Chinese people; in this sense, we will be cautiously monitoring this historical election taking place in the United States of America.