As polls closed across the United States, the leadership in faraway China heaved a sigh of relief even before the results of the presidential election started to trickle in.
The end of the election campaign, China hopes, will mean an end to what it sees as unprecedented “China-bashing” by the two contenders. In their quest for votes, incumbent Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney have both promised they’ll get tougher with Beijing if they’re sent to the White House.
Mr. Romney has promised to label China a “currency manipulator” on the first day of his presidency, a move some worry would spark a trade war. Mr. Obama, who instigated a redeployment of U.S. military assets from the Middle East to Asia, in part to counter the growing strength and assertiveness of the People’s Liberation Army, has also boasted about his get-tough trade measures towards China.
Beijing clearly hopes that much of the campaign rhetoric was just that. “If scapegoating and vilifying China are merely campaign tricks, with the heated campaign drawing to an end, it is time for whoever the president-in-waiting is to tone down his tough rhetoric and adopt a more rational stance,” read an editorial distributed by the official Xinhua newswire amid the voting in the U.S.
Xinhua warned of that the consequences of any kind of trade war between Washington and Beijing would be severe. “As the world’s largest and second-largest economies, they can not afford to grapple with the backlash of any severe confrontations in any arena. With bilateral trade standing at nearly half-a-trillion U.S. dollars, tit-for-tat tariffs and, eventually, an all-out economic war will be a disaster for China and the U.S.”
While officially Beijing has not indicated a preference in the race, a pair of online opinion polls suggested that a wide majority of Chinese were hoping to see Mr. Obama re-elected. China is set to begin its own transfer of power on Thursday, when some 2,270 delegates from the ruling Communist Party will enter the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for a conclave expected to last seven to 10 days. The end of the meeting will see the introduction of the new Standing Committee of the Politburo, the seven or nine-member body that is the supreme authority in China’s one-party system.
With many Chinese bloggers highlighting the contrast between the American election, where every citizen has a vote, and the Communist Party power brokers meeting behind closed doors, state media was arguing Tuesday that China’s system was actually the more efficient of the two. “The electoral system encourages populism. Parties and politicians are slowly turned into its captives,” read an editorial in the Global Times, a Communist Party newspaper.
“Western governments have given up their responsibility to lead society and now only shuffle voters and votes. This should alarm Chinese society. The spirit of hard work and effort must not be replaced by unrealistic welfarism.”
Another area of tension in recent weeks between the world’s two superpowers has been the escalating dispute over a set of uninhabited islands claimed by both China and Japan, a key U.S. ally that Washington is bound by treaty to defend in the case of attack. The U.S. and Japan this week began massive joint exercises off the island of Okinawa that will involve nearly 45,000 troops, although – in an effort to calm Beijing – it will no longer involve a simulated re-taking of an island that had been captured by an unnamed enemy.