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Transition 2012

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Views from Abroad: More on China’s Take on the U.S. Race

by Toni Johnson
April 28, 2012

Imperial Vault of Heaven in Beijing October 28, 2007. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters) Imperial Vault of Heaven in Beijing October 28, 2007. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)

This week we interviewed Jia Qingguo, a leading American studies scholar based in Beijing, who says, despite the campaign rhetoric against China on issues like trade, most Chinese leaders believe this is just politics and no matter who is elected in November, U.S. policy on China is unlikely to significantly change.

Here is what he had to say when asked the following questions:

Does the Chinese leadership follow the U.S. election pretty closely?

Definitely. I think the Chinese leaders pay a lot of attention to what’s going on in the United States, especially the presidential campaign, because whoever gets elected may make policies that have serious consequences for China. So it’s customary that the Chinese leaders pay a lot of attention to U.S. elections.

President Obama visited China in November 2009, and President Hu was in the United States last year. This year, Vice President Xi was in Washington on a kind of “getting acquainted” visit. How is President Obama regarded in China?

I think he’s highly respected. Of course, people have problems with him for different reasons. For example, his decision to sell weapons to Taiwan and also his decision to meet the Dalai Lama were not appreciated. But otherwise, he’s highly respected as a leader with vision, and also for being a very articulate and pragmatic person.

The United States would like more flexibility in China’s currency and in trade. Trade is, of course, a big political issue in the United States given the economic problems we’ve had in the last several years. Does this bother the Chinese, or do they take this as just U.S. politics?

China has taken seriously U.S. complaints, but at the same time has made some adjustment in its currency policy. Actually, the currency has appreciated by something like 30-plus percent in the past few years, but at the same time, the Chinese believe that the talk about trade and currency issues reflects domestic political considerations. The Chinese feel the United States needs to fix its own economy and also fix its own currency exchange rate problem rather than just complaining to China about these problems. From the Chinese perspective, both countries need to work together more and criticize each other less on such kind of issues.

When we also asked him about Republican challenger Mitt Romney:

Romney, like other Republicans, has also been very critical of China on its economic policies. Is there a concern that if Romney is elected there might be a significant change in U.S.-China policy?

The Chinese know it’s fashionable to criticize China during presidential elections, but the problem is [that] a number of problems in the United States are really domestic. Significant parts of the U.S. economy are in trouble and you need to find a scapegoat, and China happens to be the one. 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.

Read the full interview here.

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