While both Presidential candidates have at times “talked tough” on China, it’s important to remember that traditionally much inflammatory campaign rhetoric has been just that, rhetoric. The China Backpedal of talking tough in the election campaign, then pursuing a conciliatory relationship once in office, is well-documented.
Ultimately, however, since you (the reader) also possess interest in China, I think it’s also useful to hear some of your responses on which president you think would be
(1) best for continuing peaceful relations, and/or (2) best for long-term strategy (from America’s point of view).
As you read the analysis, feel free to retort with your own opinions.
It appears John McCain’s past interest in free trade implies he would encourage a positive relationship between heavy trading partners America and China whilst preserving American economic strength and military investments in the Asian region.
McCain appears to have a balanced opinion in regards to China. He counseled Bush to “avoid confrontations” on his Beijing Olympics trip to China, saying that some of China’s actions are “also regrettable, but I don’t think China is regressing the way that Russia is. We have a greater opportunity to work in a cooperative way with China.” McCain “hopes Bush will tell the Chinese leadership that “we understand, as the [DL] does, that T$3b$t is part of China but we hope Tibetans are not repressed or oppressed.” Importantly, McCain met relatively recently with the D$$ai L$$a in Colorado (Washington Post).
McCain’s main foreign policy focus will be on Iraq and Iran. Being a military man, McCain doubtless realizes there is little to be gained by forcing America to further overextend forces to posture against China over issues that present relatively minor relationships to immediate American interests. On the negative side, it is possible the McCain presidency will continue the dubious Bush policy of benign neglect of ASEAN and South-East Asian relations, which would allow China to increase its influence in that region.
Running-mate Palin’s foreign policy experience is slighly less than Obama’s (she hasn’t yet visited Iraq or Europe on state-trips), and regrettably there are few easily located documents on any statements tied to her positions on China.
Ultimately, a McCain presidency appears to offer continued peaceful relations with China.
Barack Obama would be pressured by both his party [Nancy Pelosi is a noted China-basher] and his own conscience and campaign rhetoric to “get tough on China.” Obama has made several tough statements on how America is “shipping jobs overseas.” If he carries through with campaign promises, Obama might work to roll back certain aspects of China-trade, perhaps creating more jobs in the United States. If he succeeds, that would certainly harm US-China relations and raise prices of goods that were formerly cheaply made-in-China, or assembled therein. At a minimum, Obama might seek to set up administrative hurdles to US-China trade, as Experience Not Logic implies in its analysis of Obama’s acceptance speech and the Democratic primary debate.
Obama’s running-mate, Joe Biden, is even more negative on China trade, saying; “If I were president, I’d shut down any imports from China, period, in terms of their toys — flat shut it down. Imagine if this was Morocco selling us these toys, we would have shut it down a year ago.”
Despite Obama’s anti-trade rhetoric, one Chinese journalist believes that because much of Obama’s expert team consists of Clinton-era officials, his relationship will be pragmatic. Still, that same journalist believes “an Obama administration would put more pressure on China, even to the point of being more likely than the Bush administration to use the WTO to confront China in court on related issues.”
On the positive side with Obama, he will probably talk to Hu Jintao, and not overtly pressure China beyond token expressions of dissatisfaction. At least, talks will happen if Obama isn’t forced to burnish an image of diplomatic weakness, like former US President Kennedy needed to do in order to establish credibility. If Obama is perceived as “weak” after having unsuccessful talks with Iran or Syria or Hamas, then he will need to regain his political capital somehow– and that somehow could be through bashing Russia or China- traditional bugaboos.
It is a little uncertain to say what Obama’s ultimate China policy relationship will be, but it is promising to note his advisory staff contains several people who possess deep knowledge concerning China. (See Below)
Other Views on Obama’s China Policy:
Joe Biden’s China Stances – at China Esquire.
Other Information on McCain’s Foreign Policy
McCain’s essay in Foreign Affairs.
McCain’s China positions at OnTheIssues.
Foreign Policy and China Teams:
The Foreign Policy Research Institute analyzed what a Democratic or a Republican majority in Congress and the White House might mean for US-China relations.
(added 10/5/08) Shen Dingli of Fudan University weighed in with his views on the candidates and China.
Obama certainly has the big names on his team, from Brooking’s Jeffery Bader to Richard Bush of Brookings; Ken Lieberthal, former NSC; Mike Lampton, SAIS; Evan Medeiros, RAND; Bob Kapp, former president of the US-China Business Council; Kevin Nealer, The Scowcroft Group; and Bob Suettinger, former NSC and CIA now consultant. Elizabeth Economy is also involved in Environmental issues.
McCain has former Deputy Secretary of State Rich Armitage, former Bush Administration defense, NSC and foreign policy officials Peter Rodman, Rick Williamson, Mike Green, the former NSC Senior Director for Asia, now at CSIS, and Dan Blumenthal, former DOD, now at AEI.
If John McCain, the presumptive American Republican Party presidential candidate wins in November 2008, his China policy appears to be one of seeking to maintain positive relations while attempting to convince China to become a responsible stakeholder in international affairs.
McCain’s voting record in the Senate indicates a relatively benign attitude toward China-US relations, but his recent campaign rhetoric indicates he might take a harsher line toward China. Then again, President Bush was harsh on China when he came into office, and that shifted sharply once he came to believe that although it might be popular to malign the country, the US might benefit by cooperating with the Asian state.
The often-quoted Yan Xuetong of “Qinghua University says Chinese-U.S. relations might be more stable under a McCain presidency than with either Democrat.”
I invite you to look below and come to your own conclusions about McCain’s statements on China.
CHINA DEMOCRATIZATION AND HUMAN RIGHTS
In (1999), McCain said that “we need not shrink from a strong advocacy of religious and political freedom [in China].” Shades of this statement were echoed McCain’s his April 2008 comments in regard to Beijing’s response to unrest in T*b*t; “If Chinese policies and practices do not change, I would not attend the opening ceremonies… It does no service to the Chinese government, and certainly no service to the people of China, for the United States and other democracies to pretend that the suppression of rights in China does not concern us. It does, will and must concern us.”
(All three Presidential candidates echoed similar statements regarding attendance of the opening ceremonies.)
McCain went on to urge China to engage in “a genuine dialogue” with T*b*ts spiritual leader. McCain said: “I have listened carefully to the D@l&i L&ma, and am convinced he is a man of peace who reflects the hopes and aspirations of T*b*t*ns.” He went on to say, “I urge the Chinese authorities to ensure peaceful protest is not met with violence, to release monks and others detained for peacefully expressing their views and to allow full outside access to T*b*t.”
DIPLOMACY AND ECONOMICS
He promotes economic engagement with China (1999), and voted for normalized trade relations with China in 2000. He appears to be a “free trade” Republican who believes that lowering barriers will increase democratization, make others wealthy and lead to peace. It appears McCain subscribes to the Thomas Friedman’s “Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention” (Scroll down to see the definition).
However, in recent years, his statements in regards to China have turned more belligerent. In response to unsafe toy scandals in April 2008 McCain said “If I were president of the United States, the next toy that came into this country from China that endangered the lives of our children, it would be the last,”
McCain also implied that “the G-8 should be limited to democracies,” according to a Bloomberg article reposted on The China Post, which implies he would keep China, and Russia out of the world’s major economic decisions. The economic and political wisdom of keeping some of the most powerful economic powers away from the discussion table is a bit murky. Perhaps pressure-tactics might encourage a change in attitude by the countries- but that remains to be seen.
It appears McCain is willing to confront Beijing on issues such as their support for Myanmar (Burma) and China’s continued trade dealings with Sudan. As he said in May 2008, “”I would hope” Americans would sell stocks and other investments tied to Sudan, McCain told reporters… “because I think that government obviously is one that has done virtually nothing to prevent the genocide that is taking place in Darfur.”
His comments are a bit odd, coming as they did soon after China sent over 140 engineers and troops to Sudan, but it is a fact that China’s promotion of Sudan’s “national sovereignty” has resulted in it pushing for watered down UN votes sanctioning Sudan over its treatment of the minorities in the Darfur region.
CHINA AND TAIWAN
“Guarding against Chinese threats to our strategic interests in Asia is a sound rationale for helping reduce the growing threat to Taiwan from a mainland missile attack” (1999).
Considering McCain’s interest in East Asian security, it is likely he will support the continued de facto independence of Taiwan. He would unlikely, however, support de jure independence, seeing as he has previously spoken of a “One China” principle.
John McCain appears willing to challenge China on shoddy imports, and human rights. He also appears willing to seek to maintain American military interests in the region and may subscribe to a view that America’s long-term world-competitors are large states rather than small. This would encourage him to expand the size of the professional military, and perhaps purchase a larger amount of F-22s.
If McCain speaks most belligerently about China, it will be in regards to T*b*t, or Taiwan. While he has been noted for his compassion for the Sudanese people, beyond the stock sell-off he has had little to say directly on the subject.
Of course, American forces in East Asia are currently being drawn down as troops are moving gradually from South Korea to Guam. The drawdown of US troops could ameloriate Chinese fears of American encirclement.
McCain would try to keep the trade levers open between the countries, believing trade would be mutually beneficial. McCain’s past record is of promoting economic policies that satisfy China, and benefit America by creating a more efficient supply-chain. These policies do much toward peacefully co-existing with the Chinese State.
It appears that a McCain presidency, though potentially confrontational in regard to Chinese human rights and shoddy merchandise, would tend to reflect George Bush’s status quo of criticising China, while still increasing trade, and working toward dialogue. That is, if the OLD free trade McCain overcomes the populist G-8 and dialogue-limiting McCain that has appeared in the 2008 election cycle. If the new, more belligerent McCain crafts China policy, then pressure and stresses might develop in the Sino-US international relationship.
* The major source article for this analysis was the CFR’s analysis of Presidential Candidates’ China views.
* John McCain’s major foreign policy article in Foreign Affairs is “An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom.”