Obama's second term and China's new leadership
Peoples Republic of China's state-run daily Global Times, commenting on the outcome of November 6 American presidential election, said it did not expect much change, but had harsh words for Western democracy: "Western governments have given up their responsibility to lead society and are now merely shuffling votes and voters around," it said, praising China's current system as "both outstanding and rare".
On the eve of the result, a commentary by the official Xinhua news agency let slip some of the anger at the criticism directed against China by both the Democratic Party caandidate President Obama and Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney, warning the US that "China-bashing" must stop now the campaign is over.
On the popular Sina news portal, well-known US analyst Zhang Guoqing said he was "not optimistic about the future", calling Mr Obama a "brazen trade protectionist" who will try to put more economic and security pressure on China.
A commentary from the state news agency, Xinhua, said mutual trust had been "whittled down" in Obama's first term, although there was now a new opportunity to improve ties.
"As the two countries have been ever more economically interwoven, a new US government perhaps should start to learn how to build a more rational and constructive relationship with China," it added.
While both candidates criticized China in debates, Mitt Romney was notably more aggressive. A commentary from state news agency Xinhua – published before polls closed – said it hoped the results would bring "a pause in the China-bashing game".
All these observations are on the eve of the consolidation of the new Chinese leadership:
Chinese communist Party vice president Xi Jinping's elevation to the presidency at the 18th national congress of the party on Thursday. Mr. Xi, 59, has been second in command to President Hu Jintao since 2008.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao sent congratulatory messages to Obama on his reelection saying China will “look to the future and make continuous efforts for fresh and greater progress in the building of the China-U.S. cooperative partnership.”
Obama has been reelected just before China's ruling Communist Party meets Thursday for a congress which will witness top leadership transitions that comes once-a-decade.
During the US presidential campaign, both candidates were highly critical of China, taking Beijing to task over what they saw as the country's unfair trade practices. Some of the sting from those accusations could well linger long after election day. Relations between the two countries have been strained in recent years - particularly over economic issues.
Beijing is also deeply worried about President Obama's strategic "pivot" back to Asia. Some officials believe that Washington is trying to contain the rise of China. It will be these issues that will dominate arguably the most important diplomatic relationship in the world.
A journalist Michael Anti told Washington-based Asia Society "It's good news for China that the United States will not change its administration while China is changing its own group of leaders.
It means China doesn't need to study a new U.S. president from scratch. However, after the end of China's 18th Party Congress, China will enter the decade-long of Xi Jinping era, and the Sino-U.S. relationship will see changes. This new "Xi Administration" will consist of more princelings, more Western-educated people and fewer engineers, which suggests they are more confident about using power, know more about the U.S., and are more likely to bring forth disruptive changes at some point (although for the most part they will maintain the status quo of our relationship). These are things a second-term Obama administration may need to study from scratch."
China’s complicated and often fraught relationship with the United States has also been stalled for much of the past year, with China-bashing figuring prominently during the U.S. presidential election.
At a news conference Wednesday, Communist Party spokesman Cai Mingzhao expressed hope that with his reelection, President Obama would “continue to build a positive China policy.”
In recent years, the Obama administration has invested time and energy into nurturing ties with the next generation of leaders. Vice President Biden in particular has tried to develop a rapport with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the man who will take over the presidency at the Communist Party's 18th National Congress this week. Mr. Xi is expected to assume the official title of president in March.
But whether that U.S. investment will translate into greater clout with China on thorny issues such as Syria, Iran, Taiwan or Tibet, or into better overall U.S.-China relations, is still unclear.
Xi and the rest of the future leadership take the reins amid growing pressure for the party to reform to curb rising corruption and spur economic growth, which recently slowed to its lowest quarterly rate since 2009.
Eight out of 10 Chinese want political reform, according to a survey published on Wednesday by a state-run newspaper.
The poll, published by the Global Times newspaper, found that 81 per cent of people in seven major cities said they supported political reform, with 66 per cent feeling the government should face greater public scrutiny.
The Global Times is linked to the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, and the decision to publish the survey appeared to indicate the party wanted to be seen to be acknowledging the calls.
But while party leaders routinely voice vague lip service to some form of future political reform, the Communists retain iron-clad control of Chinese power and multi-party democracy is firmly off the agenda.
"[The congress] will be one of great importance, when China is in a crucial stage of building a modern and prosperous society in all respects, taking on reform and opening up, and accelerating the transformation of the growth pattern," party spokesman Cai Mingzhao said at a press briefing.
He added that the congress would close on November 14. The party had not previously said how long the sensitive meeting would last.
Xi’s Visit to America
In February 2012, Mr. Xi Jinping made an official five-day visit to the United States that amounted to a getting-to-know-you tour.
On Mr. Xi’s first day in Washington, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. gave a speech referring to issues of “greatest concern,” ranging from economic conflict points such as China’s currency valuation and forced transfer of foreign technology to China’s recent siding with Russia on a United Nations Security Council veto on rebuking Syria, which has been engaging in mass murder of its civilians.
In his remarks, Mr. Xi treaded cautiously, saying: “We should address each other’s economic and trade concerns through dialogue and conversation, not through protectionism.”
The United States administration officials were putting particular emphasis on Mr. Xi’s stop at the Pentagon. Mr. Xi holds the title of vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, but remains a civilian official, making his visit to the Pentagon highly unusual, officials said. China and the United States have had a strained military relationship recently, with China balking at Mr. Obama’s reassertion of the American military presence in Asia. Officials said they hoped the visit would ease the strains by allowing the administration to clarify its intentions in the region.
In a speech the next day, Mr. Xi said that the two nations must respect each other’s “core interests” while working to build trust and cooperation on a range of issues, from trade policies to diplomacy with North Korea and Iran. Mr. Xi delivered his remarks, billed as the major policy speech of his five-day trip, at a lunch in Washington attended by hundreds of business executives, officials, China scholars and diplomats.
Mr. Xi’s use of the term “core interests” was intended to stress the existence of a line that the United States and other countries should not cross in discussions with China. In particular, it has come to mean territorial sovereignty, and Mr. Xi stressed that the United States should oppose those advocating for independence in Taiwan and Tibet.
Mr. Xi said he hoped the United States would “honor its commitment to recognizing Tibet as a part of China and oppose Tibetan independence and handle Tibetan issues in a prudent and proper manner.”
On the issue of broader human rights, Mr. Xi said, “it is only natural that we have some differences.”
This September U.S. defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Beijing and had discussions with Mr. Xi.
Xi Jinping is the vice president of China and the apparent successor to President Hu Jintao.
Mr. Xi is expected to take the reins of the world’s second-largest economy in November 2012, when he will be elevated to the top post of the Chinese Communist Party at the 18th Party Congress, the most sweeping government reorganization in a decade.
He will take the helm of a more confident China than the United States has ever known. He will be assuming supreme power in China at a time when relations between the two countries are adrift, sullied by suspicions over a clash of interests in Asia and by frequent attacks on China in the American presidential campaign.
The son of a revolutionary general, Mr. Xi boasts far closer ties to China’s fast-growing military than the departing leader, Mr. Hu, had when he took office. As Mr. Xi rose through the ranks of the Communist Party, he made the most of parallel posts in the People’s Liberation Army, deeply familiarizing himself with the inner workings of the armed forces.
This combination of political power as head of the Communist Party and good relations with a more robust military could make Mr. Xi a formidable leader for Washington to contend with, analysts and diplomats in China and the United States say.
As The New York Times puts: "Much about Mr. Xi points to a person who, by the standards of current leaders, will be comparatively progressive. Unlike the parochial Mr. Hu, Mr. Xi is well-traveled and intimately familiar with the West. His daughter attends Harvard, and he is said to enjoy Hollywood films about World War II."
Mr. Xi rose through party jobs in China’s entrepreneurial coastal centers. His success has has been built on a combination of political acumen, family connections and ideological dexterity. Like the country he will run, he has nimbly maintained the primacy of the Communist Party, while making economic growth the party’s main business.
There is little in his record to suggest that he intends to steer China in a sharply different direction. But some political observers also say that he may have broader support within the party than Mr. Hu, which could give him more leeway to experiment with new ideas. At the same time, there is uncertainty about how he may wield authority in a system where power has grown increasingly diffuse. Mr. Xi also has deeper military ties than his two predecessors, Mr. Hu and Jiang Zemin, had when they took the helm.
- Asian Tribune -