Richer and more assertive since the last US presidential campaign, China is looking at the harsh anti-Chinese sentiment being expressed by both candidates with a mixture of aloofness and unease.
The Chinese say they are accustomed to China-bashing during the US election season, but there is growing concern among government officials, business executives and academics in Beijing that this time the attitude toward China among the US public and politicians is so hot it may not cool after Election Day.
From accusations of unfair trade practices to a discussion of whether it is proper for the candidates to have investments in Chinese companies, the word “China” came up 22 times, and always negatively, in the debate between US President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney last week.
In the final presidential debate tonight, where foreign policy will be the main subject, China is likely to be a center of attention again.
The relationship between China and the US has become more brittle in the past two years, with differences over trade and strategic interests stoking US fears that China is infringing on the US’ longstanding influence in Asia.
For their part, the Chinese watch with growing alarm as their country has become a frequent target of blame for the weakness in the US job market.
“The US general election, originally thought only a battle over domestic issues — the economy, fiscal deficit and health care — has now embroiled China as a punching bag,” said Fred Hu, chairman of Primavera Capital, a private equity group in Beijing, and former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asia. “The noises from the campaign trail are quite disconcerting. It remains to be seen whether the shrill campaign rhetoric about China will just remain as bombast.”
The fears over China in the US, experts in Beijing note, are not limited to the campaign trail.
Last month Obama cited national security concerns as the reason for ordering a Chinese company to divest its shares in wind farm projects near a navy testing facility in Oregon. A scathing harsh congressional report called the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei a national security threat to the US.
China is itself now in the final countdown of the transfer of power from Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), whose ascension to the top Chinese Communist Party post is expected to be announced at the 18th Party Congress opening on Nov. 8, two days after the US election. With the political jockeying inside the Chinese leadership more turbulent than expected because of such things as the Bo Xilai (薄熙來) scandal and the conflicts with China’s neighbors over offshore territory, Beijing has had less time than it might have liked to focus on the US contest.
“I don’t see a clear intention from the Chinese government yet,” said Hu Shuli (胡舒立), editor in chief of Caixin Media.
Historically, Chinese governments have favored Republican administrations, preferring their perceived stability in foreign policy, Chinese academics say. In particular, they were closely acquainted with and liked former US president George H.W. Bush, who was an ambassador to China and head of the CIA before becoming president in 1989.
However, those were different times, when the relationship was less interdependent, less vital to the global economy. Chinese government leaders know little about Romney, analysts in Bejing said, and view him as a new kind of Republican who is more conservative than those they have known.