China’s Response to the U.S. Political Conventions? Big Yawn

The U.S. may be all agog with the pageantry and pomp of its political conventions, but the Chinese? Not so much

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CHRISTOPHER MORRIS / VII FOR TIME

Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, is shown on the jumbo screens at the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Aug. 27, 2012

As the American political-convention season chugs along, what has been the response in China, a country that reliably emerges as a whipping boy for both political parties during U.S. electoral campaigns? So far in the People’s Republic, the 2012 U.S. election has provoked little more than a long and deliberate yawn. “Obama, Romney, who cares,” appears to be the prevailing Chinese attitude. There are far more pressing issues on the home front — juicy corruption cases, disintegrating bridges, deadly road accidents — than some electoral outcome in a country across the Pacific.

Take as an example the Aug. 30 editorial headlined “U.S. Election Barely Matters for China,” in which the Beijing-based Global Times opined:

To China, the U.S. matters less than before. Even though the majority of Chinese think the U.S. intends to contain China and are worried about potential confrontation between the two sides, but the worry hasn’t generated much apprehension. Chinese increasingly believe the biggest challenge for the country comes from within. Washington cannot easily threaten us. Any move of the U.S. against China will be responded to accordingly.

(MORE: What You Missed While Not Watching the Convention)

It’s tempting to think that such strenuous underlining of how much America does not matter to China actually betrays an opposite sentiment. But on Weibo, the microblog that serves as the unofficial pulse of China’s wired public, the movements of the American political machinery barely elicited a flicker of interest. The lack of curiosity is partly related to the absence of electoral knowledge among the Chinese masses. This is a country where the public has no say in choosing its top leaders, a secretive process set to begin later this year as China undergoes a once-a-decade leadership transition. Parsing the importance of convention politics is hard enough for an American audience, much less a Chinese one.

Still, what about all the anti-China rhetoric emanating from the U.S. political campaigns? Surely that galls the Chinese establishment? For veteran America-watchers in China, there’s a realization that the hullabaloo over China as a trade-hogging, dissident-jailing, all-around bad guy will probably die down come January, if previous campaign seasons are any guide. Will Mitt Romney really, as promised, use his first day of a possible future presidency to label China a currency manipulator and immediately reshape the bilateral trading relationship? Don’t bet on it.

(MORE: Why Asia’s Disputes Aren’t Just About China)

Nevertheless, China’s relations with the U.S. do matter — and, just as in any country, friction points will be used for political benefit by the Chinese government. Just a few days before the Global Times was busily assuring the Chinese public that the outcome of the American presidential election had little impact on the People’s Republic, a spirited editorial in the government’s English-language mouthpiece, the China Daily, attacked Romney:

By any standard, the U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s China policy, as outlined on his official campaign website, is an outdated manifestation of a Cold War mentality. It endorses the ‘China threat’ theory and focuses on containing China’s rise in the Asia-Pacific through bolstering the robust U.S. military presence in the region.

The editorial contrasted Romney unfavorably to Barack Obama, although the Chinese paper also castigated the current U.S. Administration for “covertly or overtly backing some of China’s neighbors in an attempt to add fuel to the fires of the South China Sea disputes.” Early in September, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit China as part of her ongoing Pacific tour. Sure to be on the agenda are tensions in the South China Sea, where territorial claims overlap between China and Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines and Vietnam. On a previous trip to Asia, Clinton told her Vietnamese hosts that the U.S. was committed to helping maintain stability in the vast waterway. The American position naturally drew Beijing’s ire.

(MORE: Turf Wars — a Guide to Asian Geopolitical Conflicts)

Another of China’s regional relations has turned testy in recent weeks. Anti-Japanese protests flared across the country earlier in August after nationalist calls in Tokyo triggered debate over who owns a scattering of islands called the Diaoyu by the Chinese and the Senkaku by the Japanese. Patriots from both sides staged landings on the rocky outcroppings, which are surrounded by plentiful fishing waters but have no human inhabitants. The demonstrations in China were the biggest in seven years; on Aug. 27, a Chinese man ripped the flag off the front of the Japanese ambassador’s car in Beijing, prompting an official complaint from Tokyo. The rhetoric emanating from the Global Times, a reliably jingoistic newspaper, has turned more scathing toward Japan than the U.S.:

Japan’s increasingly radical approach over the island disputes is pushing the Diaoyu issue toward a military confrontation. The Japanese government is dangerously fanning the flames in East Asia.

At a time when concerns over the financial health of the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 economies are coinciding with potential leadership shifts this fall, playing the foreign bogeyman card is a reliable diversion. That’s a political ploy both the U.S. and China are guilty of using.

19 comments
pingchenli
pingchenli

Well I don't really care that much either, It's not that I'm a citizen that can vote anyway. But following elections in the US  IS important to know what can happen in the future. People who don't care about what is happening around the world but in their own little space can be considered but not absolutely apathetic and narrow.  It's like your entire world revolves around cleaning your house but your backyard is dirty. 

So do i really care? I don't like the big fuss other non-citizens are crying about since they can't vote anyway and they aren't Americans to begin with but as someone who knows that globalism is stronger than before, knowign about American elections and who the candidates are and what they stand for are important to care about. 

rulomtz
rulomtz

Looks like China has some kind of Napoleon complex or little man syndrome.

Axeman777
Axeman777

China owns america, lock, stock and barrel. China has been penetrating the U.S.A anally for the past decade....

Brian
Brian

Are we supposed to have hurt feelings over this? lol  Its too bad other countries dont feel the same way. Anyone who knows Americans, know we could care less what the world thinks, no do we care about China's internal politics. The world needs to get over itself, because they mean nothing to us!

freshrainer2012
freshrainer2012

You think American elections should be cared for, for me, the Chinese shift of right this Autumn should be the highlight of the world.

jackclem
jackclem

Not  just china does not care about Presidental elections in USA but no one in the world except the USA, possibly a bit in UK, would be keen on this. I have to agree with rory2012.

vstillwell
vstillwell

Obama doesn't have the stones to level the playing field and Bain Capital makes billions off of China's currency manipulation, so why would either candidate want to change anything?

rory2012
rory2012

You ask people around the world . No body care what the Americans think anymore.USA was treated as an mentally ill patient around the globe politically.

Brian
Brian

Yawn. Nobody cares about America until they need our help.  If America cut all food and economic aid to other countries, 30 of them would starve to death in 2 months.  The only thing mentally ill about our foreign policy, is that we give too much and its spoiled the world. You can act like you dont care, but you really do. We are the country you love to hate and we are the country who loves to be hated!  Someone needs to be the universal scapegoat of the world. Its a thankless job that keeps the world stable. Remember that.

Axeman777
Axeman777

 Yaaawn! Delusions of grandeur...

rory2012
rory2012

So gospel of HATE is the mentality of the US foreign policy according to you

vstillwell
vstillwell

If you're going to comment in English, use it properly. 

rory2012
rory2012

 I would be appreciated if you can rephase for me and also in some other different language

vstillwell
vstillwell

OK. Let's do this again. If you insist on commenting in English, use it properly. Since you think you're so damn smart, you should be able to do that. Right?

Marcus Taylor
Marcus Taylor

They OWN US.  What do they have to worry about?

Jerico Cruz
Jerico Cruz

 They might wanna worry about the US not paying its debt

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

No, the debt is to make sure US consumers will have money to buy Chinese exports and keep the currency weak, so that the Chinese people are weak too and thus easy to control and will be able to work hard to export.

woaikn1314
woaikn1314

China is a strong  country and Chiese people are  more  powerful

中国是强大的 中国人更强大