(Some of) China’s Netizens Eye U.S. Presidential Debate

In a televised presidential debate laden with dubious claims from both sides last night, initial polls declared Republican Mitt Romney the clear victor. Taiwan’s Next Media Animation agreed:

Xinhua offered a rather drier account and interviewed Peter Hanson of the hosting University of Denver, who said that Romney’s success was unlikely to fundamentally alter the state of the race.

While Sina Weibo is generally more preoccupied with reality TV than with politics, let alone politics abroad, the spectacle of the debate did attract a fairly sizeable crowd there. Quartz’s Lily Kuo discussed the online Chinese reaction at PRI’s The World, including one user’s suggestion that the U.S. adopt a more interactive format modelled on hit TV show The Voice:

Kuo also highlighted netizens’ comparisons between the glaring public spotlight of the U.S. debates and the shroud of secrecy over China’s impending leadership transition. From The Atlantic:

The term “debate” had over 9 million mentions, and most of the recent posts referred to the U.S. presidential debate. A search for “Obama,” in Chinese, 奥巴马, came up with over 19 million hits. A search for “Romney,” 罗姆尼, came up with about 672,000 after the debate had finished.

[…] One user by the name wangran said after the debate, “What impressed me the most was not the war of words between the two candidates but the blue backdrop and the words to the US Constitution. This is their blessing and their luxury. They don’t have to worry about holding up the basic system of their state. They don’t have to worry that anything said will erupt into social instability. They can get down to business and talk about taxes, the deficit, health care, education.” Another wrote, “The American presidential debate is so much fun.” User GanHongYu said, “When can we have one?”

For now, Isaac Stone Fish’s report at Foreign Policy on a parallel-universe debate between candidates Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping will have to do.

The most momentous event of the debate was planned beforehand. Guessing correctly that Li would tout that he had “more political experience than Zhou Enlai,” Xi personally devised a devastating zinger in reply, according to two senior members of Xi’s campaign who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak more candidly about their boss. “Vice premier, I served with Zhou Enlai. I knew Zhou Enlai. Zhou Enlai was a friend of mine. Vice premier, you’re no Zhou Enlai,” Xi said.

“Li had made the Zhou comparison before, and we wanted to be ready in case he made it again,” said a consultant close to the campaign who called the debate a “make-or-break moment,” citing Xi’s lagging polling in the key swing provinces of Hubei and Liaoning. “We really won the Weibo news cycle with that one.”


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