China likes to remain neutral — or at least to give that impression — when it comes to the internal politics of other countries. After all, it doesn’t want to encourage other nations to meddle in its own politics.
For this reason, it isn’t surprising to find scant mention of the U.S. election in China’s media. Chinese papers are filled instead with news on the upcoming 18National Congress of the Communist Party, a week-long meeting of top cadres that kicks off in Beijing on Thursday to choose its new leadership.
China’s various media outlets, controlled to one degree or another by the government, have been relatively quiet on the U.S. election. But it’s not that their readership is uninterested. The Chinese are following the race more closely than they did in 2008.
The nature of recent news reports in the Chinese press suggests that public opinion in China may have turned in favor an Obama victory. The reason isn’t hard to figure out: Romney’s persistent China-bashing, which the Chinese believe is shamelessly calculated to win votes from Americans who feel their president should start getting tougher with China.
A public opinion survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in October found that “when it comes to China, 49% of Americans want the U.S. to get tougher with China on economic issues, compared with 42% who say it is more important to build a stronger relationship. In March 2011, the balance of opinion was the reverse: 53% said building a stronger relationship was more important while 40% advocated tougher policies.”
Ding Gang, a respected columnist for the People’s Daily, China’s largest newspaper controlled by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, wrote an opinion piece on October 17 (“China-bashing: Shame on American Politics”) in which he says that U.S. presidential “candidates find fault with China simply to win more votes,” and this shows that “there must be something wrong with the country’s political system if such downright lies can be used to lure voters.” He added, “Politicians who always look for scapegoats are either stupid or cowardly. If Barack Obama or Mitt Romney really won more votes by slandering or playing tough on China, it would be a shame for the American politics, and a trouble for the world.”
After the final presidential debate on foreign policy, China Daily, the country’s main English-language paper, ran an article by Hong Liang (“Romney’s Remarks Insult Chinese”) that criticizes Romney for making “unfounded accusations against China,” calling them “nothing more than vote-grabbing rhetoric full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
“By branding China as a country that ‘cheats’ to compete in global trade,” Liang continues,
“Romney has crudely insulted many millions of Chinese migrant workers. These honest and hard-working people, who can be found toiling away in the factories in the coastal regions or on construction sites in both big and small cities, have made a significant contribution to turning their country from a backward agriculture economy into a global industrial powerhouse over the past three decades.”
Xinhua, China’s state-sponsored newswire, has been publishing more reports lately that emphasize Obama’s apparent lead and frequently quote Americans on why he would make the better choice (see, for example, “Early Voters Turn Out to Vote in Chicago”). These are being run alongside other Xinhua reports on how Chinese Americans are encouraging each other to vote.
And today, China Daily ran article (“China-bashing Ad Takes Voters for a Ride”) in response to what it calls a “China-bashing” radio ad that Romney’s campaign aired in Ohio and Michigan with the intention of “frightening voters” by alleging Obama’s acquiescence to Chrysler’s plan to open a jeep plant in China. “But for the two presidential candidates,” it concludes, “China has been a bogeyman, and will remain so, at least for one more day.”
There are a hundred reasons why China would like to see a Republican candidate back in the White House. But there is also growing anger with Romney’s attacks and apprehension about a candidate who vows to get tough on China at a time when the Chinese economy is still weak and a new, untried leadership about to take over in Beijing.