China-bashing has been part of the US elections for ages, and in 2016 the ritual is the same, although China has become a much stronger force than in the past and the US candidates have failed to adjust their tone, writes author Zhang Lijia of the upcoming Lotus: A Novel. Few Chinese leaders lose sleep over the US elections, she writes for Aljazeera.
The Americans complain a great deal about China, accusing it of taking away their jobs and manipulating its currency. During the election campaign, the complaints only intensified. The Republican frontrunner Trump even accused China of “raping” the US and threatened to punish it.
Being accustomed to the pre-election “China-bashing”, the leaders in Beijing know that it is unlikely that the words will translate into action. They are closely following the election, which certainly poses an element of uncertainty to China and Asia Pacific region.
Although the pre-election anti-China rhetoric has remained the same over the years, what has changed is that China has grown more influential. The two most powerful nations on earth simply have to work together. Without their close cooperation, no meaningful progress can be achieved, be it anti-terrorism, climate change, or non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Despite the vast differences, the cooperation between them has deepened in economics, trade, culture, science and global governess, except in the area of Asia-Pacific security.
China regards the “strategic pivot” or “rebalancing” in Asia Pacific region as the US’ effort to contain China and it is suspicious of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which it is excluded from.
The US pivot was welcomed by some countries, particularly Japan, Vietnam and Philippines, which have territorial disputes with China.
Overall, however, Asian countries would rather focus on economic development than be forced to choose between China and the US.
The pragmatic Asians prefer engagement to containment, especially at a time when China’s stable, if slowing economy, has offered relief to its neighbours. Since 2005, Chinese imports from Asian countries have grown steadily.
Perhaps being pragmatic is the best approach when dealing with an economic powerhouse. History has proved that US presidents usually softened their stance against China after securing their presidency.
Even Clinton, hawkish as she is, sacrificed her principle when the economy looked dim. As regarding Trump, he is certainly far more unpredictable. But his shrewd business instinct probably wouldn’t allow him to carry out the threats he has made against China if he did win.
Besides, as China is shifting towards a more consumption-driven economy, it would be less at risk from the protectionist US.
So I doubt the leaders in Beijing are losing much sleep over the election.
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