BEIJING -- In China, ordinary people closely followed the U.S. election on Internet sites. It attracted more than 6.7 million comments in 24 hours, and President Obama’s victory was the third hottest trending topic on the most popular Twitter-like microblogging site, Sina Weibo.
Many Chinese were hoping that Obama’s reelection would mean a continued improvement in U.S.-China relations, and an end to some of the harsh anti-China rhetoric that marked the campaign.
In general, Chinese have favored Republican administrations; Richard Nixon is still remembered fondly here for his opening to China, George H.W. Bush served as envoy in Beijing, and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger is still a regular visitor. But Romney’s tough language, including his repeated vow to label China “a currency manipulator” on his first day in office, drew a rare rebuke from China’s Foreign Ministry and prompted many Chinese to openly wish for the stability of an Obama second term.
After Obama’s win, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua -- which usually reflects the official viewpoint -- ran two commentaries calling for better ties between Washington and Beijing.
The first commentary said, “The U.S. needs China, as well, not just in terms of economic development but also in other sectors. The global financial crisis revealed how globalization has made countries so interdependent that no single country can survive in a bubble.” It concluded, “China and the U.S. have to work together for the sake of future world stability.”
Another Xinhua commentary said, “During the year-long presidential campaign, both Obama and his GOP rival [Mitt] Romney put a lot of energy into discrediting China, unfairly calling Beijing a trade cheater, a currency manipulator, a U.S. job stealer and a rules breaker.”
“Now that the most pressing task confronting America is to energize the slack economic recovery and slash stubbornly high unemployment, the new Obama administration perhaps should bear in mind that a stronger and more dynamic China-U.S. relationship, especially in trade, will not only provide U.S. investment with rich business opportunities, but also help to revive the sagging global economy,” the commentary said.
The commentary urged Obama, in his next term, to ease restrictions on the export of high-technology items to China, make it easier for Chinese companies to invest in the United States without concerns over possible espionage, and make sure that Obama’s announced strategic “pivot” to Asia respects China’s security interests in the Pacific.
In a more pro forma reaction, China’s outgoing President Hu Jintao sent Obama a congratulatory message, saying, “You and I have reached consensus on building a mutually respectful and mutually beneficial U.S.-China partnership and exploring the construction of new relations between big powers.” Hu said maintaining “steady, healthy and stable” relations was in both American and Chinese interests.
The U.S. election came just two days before China is set to open its 18th Communist Party Congress, which will end in a week by ushering in a new leadership team for the world’s second largest economy.
Many Chinese, following the U.S. election on social media sites, noted the disparity between millions of Americans voting for their president, and ordinary Chinese having no say in the selection of their next leaders.
David Ye, 21, a college student from Guangzhou, said he followed the U.S. election on Weibo and Renren, the Chinese version of Facebook, and said he viewed the American system with envy and admiration. “We should learn from the U.S. and gradually develop toward a system of ‘separation of powers’ and constitutional governance,” Ye said. “We should have our own opposition party, separation of powers and people should have the rights to elect the leaders they choose.”
The Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid newspaper owned by the Communist Party, warned Chinese not to be lured by the American system of elections, which it said led to “populism” and politicians making false promises pandering for votes. “There's no perfect political system,” it said. “However, China's current system is widely considered to be an effective one. The efficiency of this system is both outstanding and rare.”
“The most precious thing in the world is development,” the paper concluded. “Some people think that happiness is more important than development.”