Would China Prefer a Romney Presidency?

The New York Times’ Jane Perlez explores the reaction in China to the “tough talk” deployed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who have used China as a punching bag both on the campaign trail and in the recent debates, and explains the unease brewing among government officials, business leaders and academics:

The relationship between China and the United States has become more brittle in the past two years, with differences over trade and strategic interests stoking American fears that China is infringing on the United States’ longstanding influence in Asia. For their part, the Chinese watch with growing alarm as their country has become a frequent target of blame for the weakness in the American job market.

“The U.S. general election, originally thought only a battle over domestic issues — the economy, fiscal deficit and health care — has now embroiled China as a punching bag,” said Fred Hu, chairman of Primavera Capital, a private equity group in Beijing, and former Greater China chairman of Goldman Sachs. “The noises from the campaign trail are quite disconcerting. It remains to be seen whether the shrill campaign rhetoric about China will just remain as bombast.”

The fears over China in the United States, experts here note, are not limited to the campaign trail. Last month Mr. Obama cited national security concerns as the reason for ordering a Chinese company to divest its shares in wind farm projects near a Navy testing facility in Oregon. A scathing Congressional report called the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei a national security threat to the United States.

Although Perlez suggests that the Chinese government “would probably prefer a continuation of the Obama administration”, Fudan University’s Shen Dingli writes that “a President Romney might actually be better for China”. From Foreign Policy:

The truth is that it still matters to Beijing who’s in the White House. And China won’t have as much to worry about with a President Romney. 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.

In a video posted on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal’s hina news editor Carlos Tejada discussed how Beijing is responding to the heated rhetoric used by the candidates. See also previous CDT coverage of the 2012 U.S. election, including how official media and netizens in China reacted to the first and second debates.

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