[Overseas view] It’s all the same for China

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[Overseas view] It’s all the same for China

The U.S. presidential election is a little more than a year away. A number of candidates are already campaigning for the Republican and the Democratic party primaries. There has also been much talk about each of their chances.
Given the distance to go before November 2008, when American voters will choose their next president, however, it is still too early to speculate even mildly. Much is at stake for President George W. Bush in handling his foreign policy in his remaining time in office. If he can manage a phased withdrawal from Iraq, if he can sustain progress on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament and if he can stabilize the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he has a good chance to improve his presidential legacy in the history books.
And if he can carefully craft a domestic agenda ― for instance, on Social Security and Medicare reform ― Bush can be even more able to help the Republicans compete in the next election. Remember, he was boosted in the 2004 elections by Al Qaeda’s terrorism, particularly in that year. As the war on terror has become a paramount mission for America, all politicians have to compromise as far as anti-terrorism is concerned. Bush still has an advantage in this regard and politicians cannot afford to be seen as unsupportive.
Before asking whether the Republicans or the Democrats will win, it is important to note that one-third of Americans claim to be conservatives while one-fifth call themselves liberal. What, then, are the differences between conservatives and liberals?
Certainly, differences exist between the two parties. The Republicans tend to be more conservative and strategic, defending more traditional issues such as family values, national security and free trade, among others, and oftentimes is viewed as rightwing. The Democrats, however, are more inclined to human rights- and value-based international trade or business practices.
The two parties are widely in disagreement on abortion, gun control and a whole range of other issues.
But transcending all is their fundamental view toward the world. In the realist sense, both the Republican and Democratic parties are pushing for U.S. leadership in the world. They piously believe in the market economy and individual rights, as well as liberty and freedom. Because of these, they are both idealists in spreading U.S. democracy. Although they often differ in the understanding and effectiveness of their respective approaches, they share this American mission.
No matter if the approach is unilateral or multilateralist, Republicans and Democrats will not hesitate to wage warfare in the world.
In recent history, Bill Clinton’s presidency left the impression as being the most military-prone, while Bush initiated an unlawful war by toppling the Iraqi government.
Since 1980, the Republicans have won five out of seven presidential elections. If the Republicans’ conservatism is right-wing, the American public has been more receptive to right-wingers, whether in the time of the Cold War or afterward.
However, Bush has weakened the Republican edge a great deal. The next presidential election is expected to turn left; the Democrats are likely to take over the White House in January 2009.
But since America has a bipartisan consensus on the nation’s fundamental quest, one might not expect too much of the leftwing and the Democrats or the rightwing and the Republicans. In fact, the Republican President George H. W. Bush was skillful in 1991 in rallying international support for the UN-mandated military action against the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, while remaining careful not to seek more than the reversion of the Iraqi aggression. However, his son was far less cautious in using force in Iraq 12 years later.
By comparison, Bill Clinton used a record-high number of forces around the globe, and earned himself the label of neo-interventionist. Now as presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, even before his own party’s primary, has been threatening to attack Pakistan should Islamabad be less than straightforward in digging out Osama bin Laden.
Apparently, he wishes to repeat President Bush’s success in using high-handed anti-terror rhetoric in his race against Hillary Clinton and other contenders.
In light of this observation, China has to be sophisticated in its viewing of the U.S. presidential election and various opportunities, as well as challenges from each party and all candidates. For a long time, China has been accustomed to the Republican strategic statecraft characterized by the international balance of power, by Reagan and the Bush family. Therefore, as long as there is an overarching threat such as the Soviets then or Al Qaeda now, the United States will put a lower priority on dealing with China as a potential challenger. But one should take note that Clinton sent an aircraft task force to the Taiwan strait to pressure Beijing. The current president has just cut a deal with India for cooperation in civilian nuclear power, apparently with an eye on China.
Whether America turns right or left, Washington won’t make a fundamental shift. Beijing needs to bear this in mind.

*The writer is an international relations professor and deputy director of Fudan University’s Center for American Studies.

by Shen Dingli
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