China’s Communist Party and the U.S. Presidential Elections

Onsdag, 29. Oktober 2008     0 kommentti(a)
Linda Jakobson
Internationell miljö- och naturresurspolitik forsknigsprogram
The U.S. Democratic National Convention in Denver this past August was historic for many reasons, but one relatively unnoticed reason was the presence in Denver of two officials from the Chinese Communist Party. Ma Hui, Director for the Americas at the CCP Central Committee International Department and his colleague Jiang Lin attended the convention as observers at the invitation of the National Democratic Institute. This was a first-ever.

The presence of the Chinese Communist Party officials at the Democrats’ convention is indicative of how much the Chinese foreign policy establishment has transformed in terms of self-confidence over the past three decades. The US presidential election is of course of great interest to China. Sino-US relations are by far the single most important bilateral relationship for Beijing – even if the European Union is China’s largest trading partner.

However, contrary to previous U.S: election years this time Chinese officials have been extremely careful not to display a liking for either candidate. It is evident from the nearly similar response one hears from any official one speaks to in Beijing (“we have no preference”) that officials have been explicitly instructed not to voice an opinion. Beijing’s top leadership seems to have concluded that it was not in China’s interests to discreetly and in round-about ways indicate a preference for George W. Bush when he run against Al Gore eight years ago and again in 2004 when he ran against Kerry. Moreover, China has not been a prominent election issue nor is the key thorn between the two countries – Taiwan’s unresolved future political status – particularly prickly at this moment. China’s leaders seem content to give Taiwan’s president of the last 6 months, Ma Ying-jeou, time to move forward on improving ties across the Strait.

Of course, China was a controversial topic in the past two U.S. elections while this time round both Barack Obama and John McCain have expressed quite similar views on the strategically important, interdependent and complex relationship between the two countries. An internal report circulated among Chinese foreign-policy makers last month about the two candidates’ views concluded that the U.S. policy toward China is not predicted to change in any fundamental way.

Interestingly, both US political parties have been active in supporting efforts to promote multi-candidate elections in the People’s Republic of China for over a decade. For example the International Republican Institute started funding village election reform initiatives in China back in 1993 and has been a substantial provider of financing for several pilot projects that aim to, according to the institute’s website, support “the efforts of Chinese reformers in the government, academic and nonprofit sectors to promote electoral reform, good governance, the rule of law and the development of an open and vibrant civil society.” The Chinese Communist Party leadership does not see any irony in allowing Chinese ministries to accept funding from foreign promoters of democracy while the leadership at the same time officially denounces all efforts by outsiders to cajole Chinese authorities to respect human rights and introduce transparency in governance as meddling in the domestic affairs of China.

For an overview of China’s views on the U.S. presidential election by one of China’s most foremost analysts on Sino-U.S. relations, see Dingli Shen, “China Tangled up in Red, White, and Blue”, China Brief, 16 October, 2008.

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