Whatever Republican US presidential candidate Mitt Romney says about China during the US electoral campaign, the Chinese “likely believe it will mean little or nothing in the long run,” a leading US academic said.
“Chinese leaders and analysts have developed a certain confidence about American presidential elections,” Richard Bush said.
In a paper published this week by the Brookings Institution, where Bush is the director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, he argues that Beijing’s logic may be correct.
Beijing has decided that if a challenger adopts an anti-China stance during the campaign and then wins, “he will moderate his position once he takes office and learns the complexity of issues,” he said.
At that point, he will “take account of interest groups that favor constructive ties,” Bush added. “In short, the quadrennial struggle for the American presidency has only temporary consequences for US policy toward China.”
“Therefore, Beijing need not overreact to campaign rhetoric, because given sufficient time, all will be well,” Bush said. “China has survived such hiccups in the past when it was relatively weak, and it can certainly survive another, in part because it is much stronger today than it was even in 2008.”
He reasons that if US President Barack Obama wins, he will likely continue what Beijing views as balanced, positive relations.
However, as the US presidential election nears, China’s revival as a “great power” poses greater challenges than ever before, Bush said.
In addition, there is a tendency for both Beijing and Washington to read malign intentions in the actions of the other.
Both sides have acknowledged that strategic mistrust is a problem.
For China, the mistrust is over Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, while for the US it is potential conflict over maritime, cyberattacks and space issues, he said.
There may be cases of pure misunderstanding where one side takes an action that the other concludes has malign intent when none exists.
“China believes it has not been able to complete the unification with Taiwan because of US obstruction, while Washington believes China has not given Taiwan an offer that its people feel is worth considering,” he said.
Some agencies in each government, particularly the militaries, may see a value in feeding uncertainty and mistrust.
The optimistic vision is that US-China relations will improve in the next administration, but it will be difficult to do so, Bush said.