Friction ahead for US-China ties

By Lin Cheng-yi 林正義  / 

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - Page 8

Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a Web site belonging to the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, projected on Nov. 5 that US President Barack Obama was likely to win 290 electoral votes, while his main rival, Republican candidate Mitt Romney, would get 248 electoral votes. It also predicted that the Democrats would maintain a Senate majority of 53 seats compared with the Republicans’ 47, and that the Republicans would maintain a House majority of 239 seats compared with the Democrats’ 196 seats. The projections were very close to the final election results and the site’s credibility has increased.

Before the election, Obama was leading Romney in most public polls. Indeed, many thought that the presidential debates would not affect the election results, but after Romney was considered to have won the first debate in Denver, Colorado, his support ratings improved. In the second and third debates in New York and Boca Raton, Florida, Obama took full advantage of the incumbent’s complete access to information and used Facebook, Twitter and other channels to reach out to voters and supporters with this information. The presidential debates, and the use of television advertisements and Facebook could serve as a good reference for Taiwan.

The so-called “October surprise” is usually the biggest variable before a US presidential election in November. In October 1948, when then-Democratic president Harry Truman was running for re-election against the Republicans’ Thomas Dewey, he sent then-chief justice Fred Vinson to meet with Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin, thus creating the false impression that the Cold War was about to end.

In October 1972, then-national security adviser Henry Kissinger announced at a press conference that the Vietnam War was about to end and that peace was expected, although three years later, the US lost the war. In October 2004, then-president George W. Bush released a video in which Osama bin Laden said he planned the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Last month, Hurricane Sandy forced the two parties’ candidates to put their presidential campaigns on hold. Still, as the incumbent, Obama’s role in the rescue and relief work won the praise of Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, making it yet another “October surprise.” At the last moment, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the UK’s Financial Times ran editorials endorsing Obama, and their endorsements were partly related to his performance during the hurricane crisis.

Aside from the US presidential election, China, Japan and South Korea are also facing leadership changes or elections. The ongoing islands dispute involving these three countries might affect Obama’s strategic pivot to Asia. Had Romney been elected, he would have cited China as a “currency manipulator” and sold F-16C/D jets to Taiwan, thus possibly causing confrontation between the new Chinese and US leaders. With Romney’s defeat, this pessimistic scenario was likely avoided.

On the other hand, the Obama administration has always been overcautious when it comes to selling arms to Taiwan and Obama has failed to keep his 2008 campaign pledge that he would send members of his Cabinet to visit the country. Although US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that Taiwan is “an important security and economic partner,” she has expressed reservations in private regarding President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) policies in the South and East China seas. Still, like other northeastern Asian countries, the Ma administration welcomed Obama’s re-election.

Challenged by Romney, Obama has now adopted a tougher stance toward China. On Sept. 28, he cited the US Defense Production Act to block Chinese-controlled Ralls Corp from building four wind farms close to a naval base in Oregon due to national security concerns. He has also repeatedly brought China to the WTO’s Solution Mechanism for Disputes for engaging in unfair trade practices. Moreover, he is gradually moving the US toward a containment of China as he shifts the center of US global strategy toward Asia.

During Obama’s second term, it will be easier for his administration to deal with the challenges posed by China’s rise and the new administration led by its next president, Xi Jinping (習近平). If Beijing and Washington want to promote regional coexistence and mutual prosperity in the face of Obama’s strategic shift toward the Asia-Pacific region, they will have to find their way forward through the friction as they go.

Lin Cheng-yi is a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of European and American Studies.

Translated By Eddy Chang