Doubts in Beijing China Wary of Obama's America

Many in China have nothing but admiration for America's new President-elect Barack Obama. Still, the Republicans were safe because they were predictable. With a Democrat in the White House, Beijing doesn't know what to expect.

By in Beijing


China is abuzz over Obama.
AFP

China is abuzz over Obama.

The name Obama is on everyone's lips in China; the country closely followed the campaign in the United States. The American decision, after all, has great meaning on the Asian side of the Pacific Ocean as well.

Finance institutions in Beijing have invested $500 billion in US treasury bonds in recent years, going a long way toward financing the debt-laden lifestyle led by America and Americans. The US, for its part, has for years depended on China to produce every product imaginable, doing its part to fuel China's astonishing economic rise. The two countries are as mutually dependent as an elderly married couple.

People in China are looking at Tuesday's election of Barack Obama with a mixture of admiration and skepticism. Many find him to be quite likeable, valuing the fact that he doesn't come from the Washington political establishment and that he comes from a socially disadvantaged group in American society.

But when it comes to the government in Beijing, one feels that it would have preferred a President McCain. After eight years of the administration of US President George W. Bush, Beijing knew what to expect. Furthermore, conservative Chinese functionaries feel more of a connection with conservative American politicians -- both former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former US President George Bush (the father) are seen as old friends of China. An Obama presidency, many fear, will be much less predictable.

Still, there is some optimism. Chinese political scientists, like the America expert Shi Yinhong from the People's University in Beijing, hopes that Obama's background and his experiences as an African-American will "help him to better understand the political and cultural diversity in the world and to better comprehend the developing world." In short, China -- along with many other countries in Asia -- hopes that American foreign policy will become less abrasive under the coming Obama administration.

Still, most commentators agree that Obama isn't likely to radically change American foreign policy. Beijing noted the protectionist message Obama often delivered during his campaign. His promise to help those workers who are losing their jobs to globalization could ultimately mean a reduction of US investments overseas and a drop in the amount of cheap products America imports from developing countries. The consequences could be large for China should it come to that.

Obama also made concrete demands from Beijing during the campaign, a more flexible exchange rate for example. The idea is not a new one; Beijing has been able to withstand such demands many times in the past. In the last three years, the value of the Chinese currency, the yuan, has climbed by over 20 percent against the dollar.

Of more interest, however, is the path Obama will take when it comes to North Korea's nuclear program and the country's enigmatic leader Kim Jong Il. Beijing was a vital part of the Six Party Talks aimed at convincing North Korea to renounce any nuclear ambitions, but in recent months the US has taken to negotiating directly with the North Koreans, much to China's consternation.

China is also concerned about the Bush administration's recent decision to sell billions of dollars worth of weapons to Taiwan, a decision welcomed by Barack Obama when he was still on the campaign trail. Indeed, Obama's Taiwan position differs hardly at all from his predecessor. Obama "recognizes the one-China policy, but says that US policy is also based on the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires helping the island defend itself in the event that the Chinese mainland moves to alter the status quo," writes the English language daily China Daily. Beijing, which sees Taiwan as a breakaway region, says it would attack the island should it declare independence.

For now, though, patience is the order of the day. The communist daily Global Times is willing to give Obama some time to work into his new job. "Let's wait and see how many of Obama's dreams are fulfilled," it writes.

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