As China is rising to be a great power, the U.S.-China relation becomes one of the most important foreign relations to the U.S. The importance of the 2016 U.S. presidential election from the standpoint of leadership transition of the two nations is critical. The U.S. presidency is four or eight year terms whereas the Chinese presidency is five or ten year terms, hence the leadership or power transition of the two nations would occur at 2016 (US), 2022(China), 2024 (US), and 2032 (US and China). Any steady foreign relation has its inertia, leaders tend to follow the steady course and react to its course outcome. President Xi assumed power in 2012 and adopted an aggressive reform course to sustain China's rapid growth. Xi has successfully promoted China's diplomatic influence on the global stage and offered olive branch to the world especially to the U.S., whereas the U.S. in the past 2-3 years under Obama and a Clinton-Kerry transition has conducted a fuzzy (inconsistent and self-contradictory) China policy. On the one hand, the U.S. cultivates military alliances with China's neighbors to contain China and on the other hand increases interactions with China on all levels (even military) to derive stable trade and investment opportunities and economic benefits. The 2016 U.S. president-elect will be mandated to crystallize a clear China policy dealing with Xi. If a hostile relation were maintained, a bad Domino effect would take place through the subsequent leadership transitions (2016-2032) likely to produce a tic-for-tac foreign policy. Such a downhill undesirable relation may not be easily reversed until the Year 2032 when both nations have a new leader to take the opportunity to reconsider. Wouldn’t it be too late then?
Republicans will be challenging the Democrats in 2016 to take back the White House. It may likely happen. While Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front runner, with her Obama legacy, questionable performance (Banghazi, etc.) and style (email, arrogance and hostility towards China) may not be a good choice, but the large number of the Republican candidates give American voters tough choices with their ‘tough talks’ with little beef. Since most of them had no foreign policy experience, American voters must pay attention to what they say in their campaign speeches and among debates, especially on China policy. Here, I will start with a collection of news reports from ChinaFile and other mainstream and organic media on candidates’ view on China and add with my comments for you to ponder on the China issue and think about which candidate can best steer the U.S.-China relation to a positive and fruitful course, in view of the fact the American public has lowered their favorable view of China over the past decade due to a biased mainstream media reporting.
Donald Trump, the leading Republican Presidential candidate, on November 10, 2015, in Milwaukee, commented on TPP: "It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.” This remark shows his knowledge as a businessman in understanding the importance of TPP but obviously not factual about China's strategy on trade and investment via bilateral agreements and her visionary scheme of ‘one belt and one route’ (trade routes) to promote world- beneficial development. The new U.S. president should seek this collaborative opportunity rather than ignoring it.
Chris Christie, the New Jersey Governor, said: "The Chinese don't take us seriously. If the Chinese commit cyber-warfare against us, they are going to see cyber-warfare like they have never seen before. .. On South China Sea, I will tell you this, the first thing I'll do is I will fly Air Force One over those islands, then they will know we mean business." It may be heroic when a candidate talks tough, but it is silly to say that the Chinese don't take us seriously. We see repeatedly that the Chinese not only take the U.S. seriously, she also tries very hard to get the U.S. to believe that China desires to rise peacefully. To ensure China to rise peacefully does not equate to instigate conflicts escalating to war.
It is amazing that on a serious issue of China policy, we merely hear meaningless rhetoric such as, Xi should be disinvited and taken to a woodshed (Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin), I would offer Xi a Big Mac rather give him a pomp dinner (Donald Trump) and I would downgrade Xi's State visit to a working visit (Marco Rubio). No concrete idea or a new plan to work with a rising China came from any Republican candidate. No one seriously reflected whether it is China who does not keep her words to rise peacefully or the U.S. who keep instigating conflicts between China and her neighbors. South China Sea had no single incidence not even sea pirating obstructing maritime traffic. Historically China's sovereignty included large portion of South China Sea and the U.S. maintained neutrality or silent position for decades. The Philippines and Vietnam had begun squatting some islands and started constructions several years ago. China's recent landfill construction appear to be a counter action to the ‘squatting’ very different from the camp Schwab military base the U.S. is building at Okinawa. Sending naval ships to South China Sea and urging other nations to strengthen naval force simply force China to turn those island constructions for military use. This kind of China policy is neither productive nor honorable if world peace is kept in mind.
Regarding Chinese economy and China's recent stock market drop affecting the U.S. stock market, the candidates had a lot to blame, Carly Fiorina on Federal Reserve, Chris Christie on Obama and Huckabee on Wall Street elites. "Because China's going bad it's going to bring us down too, because we're so heavily coupled with China," real-estate mogul Trump said on Fox News, "I'm the one that says you better start un-coupling from China because China's got problems." It seems that a special debate just focused on China issue nay be in order. Should the U.S. target China as an enemy? What concrete steps should an elected U.S. president take to guide the U.S.-China relation to a productive and mutually beneficial path? Since a hawkish position is likely to increase tension, and arms race leads to war, perhaps all candidates need to think through the rationales and the consequences of hawkish statements before addressing the public.
William Pesek in a recent article for Bloomberg View had said: “There’s a time warp quality to this sort of China bashing.” I wholeheartedly agree with him. As American voters, shouldn't we ask the above questions and assess our presidential candidates accordingly?!