China's Netizens 'Vote' Obama

Web users follow the U.S. election ahead of China's own leadership transition.
2012-11-07
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A Chinese student poses with a cardboard cutout of Obama at the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong, Nov. 7, 2012.
AFP

Chinese netizens, perhaps because their own leadership is in the throes of a highly secretive transition to the next generation of unelected leaders, have paid particularly close attention to this year's U.S. presidential race, showing strong support for re-elected U.S. President Barack Obama in online polls.

Unofficial online polls carried out by social media platform Sina Weibo found that 81 percent of 4,500 respondents 'voted' for Obama, while a similar poll on the Global Times' website showed that 78 percent of the 2,500 replies were in favor of a second term for the incumbent candidate.

The U.S. elections have been a trending topic in many online platforms.

A video by a well-known pop-star explaining the intricacies of the electoral college system garnered more than one million page views in recent days, while Sina Weibo's Twitter-like service counted more than 90,000 posts with the keyword "Obama" and more than 63,000 with the keyword "U.S. election" on Wednesday alone.

Official welcome

China's official media gave a cautious welcome on Wednesday to Obama's election victory over Republican Mitt Romney.

An editorial from the state-run news agency Xinhua hit out at the China-bashing rhetoric that was a feature of the presidential campaigns, and called on Obama to work to build "a more rational and constructive relationship with China."

"The new Obama administration perhaps should bear in mind that a stronger and more dynamic China-U.S. relationship, especially in trade, will not only provide U.S. investment with rich business opportunities, but also help to revive the sagging global economy," the agency said in a commentary that was carried in a number of major Chinese newspapers.

It added that "the most pressing task confronting America is to energize the slack economic recovery and slash stubbornly high unemployment."

The article also sounded a warning note over Obama's "pivot to Asia" foreign policy, calling on the U.S. to ensure that "China's legitimate and core interests and rightful requests to sustain growth [are] truly respected."

'Unstoppable tide'

Meanwhile, some journalists drew political parallels with China's own imminent leadership transition.

Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalist tabloid Global Times newspaper, called democracy an "unstoppable tide" that would force China into chaos if ignored, before adding that being swept up in it could bring chaos even faster.

But some netizens disagreed.

"What sort of thinking is that?" replied user @rilihua to the article. "Does he think it will fool an illiterate public?"

"In America, the common people carry guns and they're not afraid of descending into chaos, while in China, you have to register with your real name to buy a vegetable knife: of course they fear chaos."

Other replies quoted Obama's speech about the "messiness" of the democratic process, and his reference to people in "distant lands" who were risking their lives for a chance to argue, or to vote.

Ai Weiwei

Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei penned an opinion article for CNN, in which he warned that U.S. democracy, while ultimately desirable, was vulnerable to distortion caused by the huge amounts of money spent on campaigns.

"Democracy is a societal practice, and elections are only a part of it," Ai wrote. "The U.S. elections are certainly an exercise in democracy, but wealthy individuals and corporations can now pour significant amounts of money and advertising into manipulating the public."

Chinese blogger Li Chengpeng meanwhile penned a withering, though indirect, attack on China's behind-closed-doors political decision-making.

"Every time I see someone say ‘swing state,’ it’s a disgrace," wrote Li, in a post translated by blogger Tea Leaf Nation.

"How can there not be unity about something that important in a great country? We have ‘firm support, eternal following, and absolute loyalty’ in every province, city, and administrative region. [Representatives from our Chinese Communist Party] won't ‘swing,’ they will pass [measures] unanimously without blinking."

Leadership change

Nine members of China's highest decision-making body, the Politburo standing committee, are due to step down at the 18th National Congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Thursday, when 2,270 delegates will begin meeting over several days to vote on the new generation of leaders.

However, delegates to such congresses rarely vote against the Party leadership, and debates and power struggles within Party ranks are largely kept from public view.

President Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao will be among those leaving their positions, while vice president Xi Jinping and vice-premier Li Keqiang are widely tipped to replace them.

Sino-US ties

Joseph Cheng, political science professor at Hong Kong's City University, said U.S.-China relations were unlikely to be greatly affected by Obama's re-election.

"Basically, things are stable," Cheng said. "There are some economic frictions, but these can be resolved through negotiation."

Cheng said China's chief concern is the territorial disputes over the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea  and the Diaoyu islands—known in Japan as the Senkaku islands—in the East China Sea.

"The suspicion of China among its neighbors will lead to an increase in military ties with the United States, and the U.S. will use this as a way of curbing China," he said. "At the very least, this will dampen Chinese influence in the region."

Hong Kong-based international affairs researcher Feng Zhizheng said there were a number of regional relationships that would affect Obama's policy in Asia, including improving ties with Burma and Indonesia.

But he said he also saw Obama's policies as being aimed at curbing China's military power in the region.

"Obama will be working in future with third countries to contain China, which will see growing tensions with its neighbors because of the U.S.," he said.

Feng said Beijing had been trying for years to minimize the influence of its human rights record on the bilateral relationship.

"For the past two or three years, China has brought out its own report that criticizes the human rights situation in the United States," he said.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, with additional reporting and translation by Luisetta Mudie.