Beijing hopes for stability after US election


THE VIEW FROM AFAR . . . CHINA:CHINA IS keeping a watchful eye on the US election, and while young people in the country are keen for Democrat Barack Obama to steal a march on Republican John McCain, the Communist Party wants only stable relations with Washington, whoever wins.

Both candidates have called for China to loosen trade restrictions and its exchange rate policy, and to make its military budget more transparent, but China has not been a big campaign issue. Obama has been more vocal than McCain on issues such as Tibet and human rights, but they have not dominated the campaign.

There is no indication of who China's president, Hu Jintao, wants to win in two weeks' time. While you might expect a Communist leadership to favour a left-leaning party, the Chinese Communist Party is essentially a conservative organ which is keen to maintain the status quo in terms of global power blocs.

The Beijing leadership is loath to comment on the domestic politics of another country, just as it dislikes other countries commenting on its home matters.

There is also a dislike of change. Better the devil you know, say Chinese analysts, pointing out how, when the administration changes in Washington, it tends to bring about a period of friction with China. Given growing trade tensions with the US, and the fact that China's position as an industrial power comes largely at the expense of America's manufacturing industry, the chance of such tensions re-emerging is not impossible.

These concerns aside, China has taken to US election-watching with gusto.

Books analysing the election and its repercussions are in every bookshop, there are reams of TV and newspaper coverage where the minutiae of the campaign are analysed in close detail - ironic given the fact that China is not a democracy.

The official Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily, has given a lot of space to covering and analysing the election, and its take on the campaign is very much in line with what you get in the West - what does Sarah Palin mean? How can McCain take advantage of being from the party currently in power, while still distancing himself from the thornier election issues of the Bush administration, such as the Iraq war?

The question of who runs the US is a major one for the Chinese, and there is keen awareness on the city's streets of the issues involved. Chinese young people are particularly fired up by Obama.

In an online survey carried out by the portal, a favourite among young people, 75 per cent said they wanted Obama in the White House, while only 25 per cent said they preferred McCain.

"Since Obama is black, I think he will be a good combination for whites and blacks in the US. Obama is elegant, young, passionate, and his words are convincing. I think he is the person who can really make a change for America. He can also bring peace to the world," said Tang Mingqing (20), a university student.

Teacher Han Guoqiang (33), spoke of his admiration for the American electoral system.

"America is a great country, as everything is possible there. Even a woman or a black person can be president. The debates help people more understand what their leader will do in future. McCain is good, but I think Obama is more honest," he said.

Wang Guanqi (28), a manager in an advertising company, was critical of Sarah Palin, and gave Obama a glowing review.

"Obama is down to earth and a very hard-working man. He is pure and honest," he said.

There is a traditional fondness for Republican leaders. It was Richard Nixon who first met Mao Zedong back in 1972, and Democrats have been harder on China's human rights record than Republicans. There is much residual affection for the Bush family. George Bush snr was envoy to China in the early 1970s, and the current president, known in Chinese as "Little Bush", visited his father during his time in China and rode a bicycle through the streets.

China's focus is on overcoming the global economic crisis and continuing its path to economic and social reform. Whether the winner is Obama or McCain, Beijing is just hoping the first approaches from Washington are positive and signal stable relations with China.