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Why China Is Anxious about Obama’s Win

A muted, cautious response from China greeted President Obama’s re-election. Reuters reports:

A commentary issued by state-run Xinhua news agency shortly after Obama’s election win seemed to indicate a sense of relief that continuity will be assured as Chinese leaders embark on their own transition of power. But it acknowledged that sore issues remained between the world’s largest and second-largest economies.

“As the two countries have been ever more economically interwoven, a new U.S. government perhaps should start to learn how to build a more rational and constructive relationship with China,” Xinhua said.

“The new Obama administration perhaps should bear in mind that a stronger and more dynamic China-U.S. relationship, especially in trade, will not only provide U.S. investment with rich business opportunities, but also help to revive the sagging global economy.”

Much of the discussion over China policy and American politics focused on Mitt Romney’s efforts to bolster his (thin) economic populist credentials with attacks on China over trade. But probably many Chinese authorities continued to think, as they have since the 1970s and Nixon’s historic visit, that the Republicans are the “pro-China” party in the U.S. and the Democrats are the anti-China force.

Now, with Obama’s re-election, they face two things they don’t really like: many in China view Obama’s pivot to Asia as a very bold stroke against China’s rise, and many blame the the increased assertiveness of countries like Japan on U.S. encouragement. President Obama, as an internationally popular president with a renewed mandate, can be a formidable force in Asia.

There’s another thing about the U.S. election that cannot have been comforting to Beijing: the contrast between the U.S. political system, which by all outward appearances rough and unpredictable yet deeply stable over hundreds of years, and China’s, which is ostensibly stable, but still young and currently rocked by scandal, dissension and slowly increasing public dissatisfaction.

China will now be watching to see if the pivot is here to stay.

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