Obama made four explicit references to China—the most of any S.O.T.U. that I can recall—but he also made several other, more subtle, nods to China that are no less important in understanding where the real challenge does and does not lie ….
As news broke today in China of Obama’s comparisons, there were was a bit of crowing from Chinese nationalists, but the more widespread reaction was simply disbelief. “China is still by no means a rival of America’s,” wrote a commenter at Sina.com. “I don’t see areas that should make us proud,” wrote another. Even at the reliably nationalistic Huanqiu site, commenters took note of Obama’s acknowledgement of American weakness: “What a contrast with China. Although the U.S. is strong, it is still looking for shortcomings,” one person wrote. Some of this just reflects a self-image that lags behind the pace of change in China, but it also speaks to a deep and credible Chinese concern that its education system and intellectual environment do not promote the kind of radical thinking that is needed for breakthrough innovation. Obama did not name China when he said, “Our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like ‘What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ” Likewise, he didn’t need to single out Beijing when he cited “some countries” in which “if the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed. If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.”
Elsewhere, reality TV star Donald Trump offered his own views on the address, expressing concern at Obama’s remarks on China:
“I thought the low point was when he talked about how great China was,” Trump said. “To me that was inappropriate to have in this speech, especially in light of what has happened with China.”
“I understand the Chinese, and I understand they are not a friend of this country,” he said.
See also: a response from Forbes columnists John Tamny to Trump’s past criticism of China.