3. China: Big Change? No, Thanks
On his first day in the White House if elected, Romney has vowed, he would declare China a “currency manipulator,” threatening a potential trade war. The Obama Administration, for its part, has tried to make containing China the top U.S. strategic priority. But the Chinese leadership is not particularly fazed. While polls find a strong preference for Obama in Chinese public opinion, the leadership has confined itself to castigating both candidates for China bashing on the campaign trail. And Beijing isn’t taking Romney’s currency threat especially seriously. “Significant parts of the U.S. economy are in trouble, and you need to find a scapegoat, and China happens to be the one,” Chinese analyst Jia Qingguo recently told the Council on Foreign Relations. “But if the past experience serves as a guide, a new President will not significantly change the U.S. policy toward China because the relationship between the two countries has become so close and the interests have become so intertwined. It’s very difficult for a new Administration to significantly change its China policy without bringing a lot of damage to [the] U.S. economy and U.S. national interest.”
Beijing’s preference for stability may lean it toward hoping for an Obama victory, because relations with any new Administration usually start on awkward footing. On the other hand, Fudan University’s Shen Dingli argues that a Romney victory would allow the consummate geopolitical Etch A Sketch moment:
“If Romney wins in November, both he and presumably Xi Jinping will likely shake hands and forget what candidate Romney has said thus far, in much the same manner as both Beijing and Washington have moved beyond the rhetoric of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. But China has reason to be concerned that a second term for Obama — and the continuation of present policies — would present continuous challenges to the relationship. A new President would allow for a clean slate, one that wouldn’t push the United States in a harmful direction with regard to China. And, frankly, the quiet truth is that even if President Romney were to intend irrationally to hurt China, there’s little chance he would actually be able to chart a path to do so in which the United States remained unhurt by its own actions.”
Either way, regardless of what the candidates have said, Beijing appears not to be overly concerned about how their rhetoric would translate into governance decisions.
4. European Union: Austerity or Stimulus?
Yes, yes, the European Union isn’t a country. But the interlinked financial and debt crises of the past four years have demonstrated just how closely tied the fortunes of its 27 member states have become — and also how closely their collective economic fate is tied to that of the wider global economy, first and foremost that of its largest player (and consumer), the U.S. Anemic consumer demand in America is a major problem for European economies looking to revive growth through exports, while the state of U.S. debt has an impact on financial markets everywhere.
Obama is the overwhelming favorite of most European electorates, and the likes of France’s President François Hollande see him as a vital ally in the European debate between the more Keynesian growth-oriented policies of the center-left and the austerity orientation of the center-right led by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Romney’s laissez-faire approach to economic challenges may put him well to the right even of Merkel, and officials in Berlin and other European capitals see the Republican as an unknown quantity, whose policy choices are far from clear. His hawkish talk on Russia and Iran makes most European governments somewhat uncomfortable, while his greater resistance to the regulation of financial markets is unlikely to be greeted with much enthusiasm among the E.U.’s power players.
The relative decline of the U.S., of course, means that Europe is no longer inclined to take a lead from Washington on issues ranging from the size of its military budget and share of NATO commitments to the management of its economies — as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner found a year ago, when European finance ministers simply ignored his exhortations to act more decisively to address their debt crisis. On Tuesday, Europe’s primary concern, like that of most American voters, is to see the U.S. get its own economic house in order as rapidly as possible. A robust American economy, after all, is vital for a global recovery.
5. The (Rapidly Shrinking) Arctic
Of course, the Arctic is even less of a country than is the E.U., but its rapidly shrinking ice cap may give it a more urgent stake in the outcome of Tuesday’s election than any other territorial entity on the planet. The shrinking ice is a symptom of a warming planet — a phenomenon the scientific consensus attributes primarily to the effects of carbon-gas outputs resulting from human activities. But restricting those outputs hasn’t been considered a crowd-pleaser by either candidate in an election race strongly focused on job creation — at least, that is, until Hurricane Sandy’s brutal intervention.
Scientists warn against reducing Sandy to a symptom of global warming, but at the same time note that climate change is a measurable and alarming phenomenon not being addressed by political leaders, to whom it will fall to both curb and change human behaviors that exacerbate the problem, as well as to develop strategies to mitigate the impact of the predictable nasty changes under way in global climates. Rather than an aberrant catastrophe, Sandy may be a harbinger of a new normal.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, originally elected on a Republican ticket, last week endorsed Obama for President on the grounds that he had already taken significant policy steps toward curbing carbon-gas outputs, while Romney had backed away from his previous positions in support of climate action. Bloomberg was essentially backing Obama as the candidate more likely to take the necessary action, even though the President has disappointed many environmentalists. If polar bears could vote, the Arctic might not be thrilled by the choices on offer on Tuesday. But like Bloomberg, they’d probably choose the candidate they believe would be less likely to ignore or evade their plight.