In light of America’s Presidential election, The Diplomat presents three diverse views of the election from writers in three different countries in Asia: China, Australia and South Korea. Each presents their own perspective on the election as well as viewpoints that are unique to the Asia-Pacific .
A Perspective From China: Shen Dingli is professor of international relations at Fudan University where he is Executive Dean of Institute of International Studies and Director of the Center for American Studies.
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No matter who is elected, U.S. policy towards China will not change significantly. Let us examine for a moment some of the crucial issues that concern Sino-U.S. relations.
No matter whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is elected, the next administration will undoubtedly continue selling weapons to Taiwan. The Obama administration followed through on George W. Bush’s weapons sales to Taiwan, and approved its own additional weapons package as well. Obama has signaled that he is willing to sell more advanced equipment and bargain with other stakeholders. He will likely continue to push the envelope in his next term. If Romney is elected, his administration is likely to behave in a similar manner. Similarly, President Obama has met with the Dalai Lama twice during his first term; Romney will continue this trend during his own tenure, albeit probably with less frequency.
Given China’s rise and its strengthened efforts to make its maritime rights known, the U.S. is stepping up its surveillance and regional balancing measures vis-à-vis China. Such reconnaissance close to Chinese territory led to an air collision between a U.S. EP-3 and a Chinese J-8 aircraft in April 2001, under a Republican president, and the encirclement of the USS Impeccable in May 2009, under a Democratic president. There is no reason that such incidents would end during Obama’s second term or Romney’s first. Likewise, Obama will not call off his rebalancing in Asia, which is clearly aimed at China, and Romney will follow the same policy.
Even in the case of the of the Diaoyu Islands, Republicans and Democrats have also forged a new consensus on U.S. policy towards the dispute, which deviates significantly from America’s previous stance. From 1972-2001, American officials continuously reiterated that the U.S.-Japan security alliance didn’t apply to the dispute. This began shifting, however, when the George W. Bush administration took office. The current administration has built on its predecessor’s example, with Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta both openly claiming that the treaty covers the islands. Regardless of which candidate is elected president, it is hard to envision the next administration reversing this new policy of extending the U.S. security umbrella to the Diaoyu Islands.
The areas where more is arguably at stake in terms of who will be president are employment and currency issues. Although President Obama claimed in the third and final presidential debate that his administration has taken more punitive actions on China’s exports to America than its predecessor, he has not gone as far as labeling China as a currency manipulator. If he is reelected, there is little reason to think he will not continue his current policy of pressing China to appreciate the RMB without ushering in a trade war. If Romney is elected, he will surely spend his first days in office walking back his pledge to brand China as a currency manipulator. Indeed, it’s worth recalling that, as a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama issued a similar threat, though to a lesser degree, just two days before the election. President Obama quickly backed away from this position soon after taking command of the White House.
There is no reason to believe that a President Romney would honor the threat that candidate Romney had uttered repeatedly. After all, China imported $120 billion worth of goods from America in 2011 and is likely to double its overall imports by 2015. The incoming administration is likely to attach greater importance to convincing China to increase its imports from the United States, without having to press Beijing too drastically to appreciate its currency. Adjusting exchange rates only redistributes the destination of American outsourcing to other countries within Asia and beyond.
There are some differences between the two candidates on China, however. The Democratic contender tends to promote vigorous efforts curbing climate change and demands more of China in this area, which is of less concern to Romney and the Republican Party. Democrats in general tend to be more inclined to cooperate with other nations, however, this could also lead to the U.S. expanding its cooperation with China’s neighbors against Beijing.
Overall, no matter which candidate is elected, a firm, steady and credible America is more likely to shape a stable China-U.S. relationship which better serves the interests of both countries.