What lies behind Beijing's reservations about an Obama Presidency

This goes beyond the

Chinese leadership's wariness about the Democratic Party's

traditional ties with big labor. This was manifested last week, when

Senator Barack Obama accused China of unfair trade practices, which,

he said, were "directly related to manipulation of its

currency’s value."

Before reaching the

White House in 1992, Bill Clinton also tried to please labor unions

by blasting China's huge trade surplus; similar charges were

repeated by Hillary Clinton before her campaign fizzled out last


Yet US-China relations

went along very well during the eight-year Clinton presidency, to the

point where the two countries were close to cementing a "constructive

strategic partnership." And hiccups in bilateral ties occurred

not over trade but diplomatic and geopolitical issues such as the US

bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia during the 1999 Kosovo


More significantly, the

power equation has shifted in China's favor in the past decade,

making it very unlikely that an Obama presidency, if it indeed comes

off tomorrow, would create inordinate troubles for China over trade

issues. For one thing, Washington has become more dependent on

Beijing, which already holds close to $600 million worth of treasury

bills, to buy more US government bonds.

It seems clear that the

Hu Jintao administration's misgivings about Obama are based on

two factors: the African-American’s ability to break through

racial barriers to seize the highest office in the US; and Obama’s

probable abandonment of President George W Bush's "neoconservative" foreign and defense policy, which is

seconded by Senator John McCain.

An Obama victory would

debunk decades of Chinese propaganda about white supremacy in the US

and Washington’s alleged violations of the human rights of

minorities in America. Much more significantly is the so-called

mirror effect: in China, members of ethnic minorities, especially

Tibetans and Uighurs, have been barred from top regional positions,

let alone senior national slots. For example, it has been an unbroken

tradition since 1949 that the party secretaries of Tibet and Xinjiang

must be Han Chinese.

It is perhaps for this

reason that according to diplomatic sources in Beijing, the CCP’s

Propaganda Department last month asked major media and websites to

tone down reporting about Obama, who has a surprisingly large number

of fans among the country’s estimated 220 million Netizens.

More important, Beijing has been the

major beneficiary of eight years of Bush-style unilateralism, which

has resulted in American forces being bogged down in Afghanistan and

Irag – and the depletion of Washington’s soft power.

The Hu administration

has deftly taken advantage of the decline of American clout –

in regions ranging from Asean to Africa and Latin America – to

boost its global reach. Needless to say, the CCP leadership stands to

gain if McCain were to continue Bush’s security and foreign


This is despite the fact

that a McCain presidency would probably mean an exacerbation of the

so-called “anti-China encirclement policy,” a reference

to Washington trying to “contain” China with the help of

Asia-Pacific allies including Japan, Australia and, beginning last

year, India.

Thanks to the Illinois

senator’s apparent popularity in Europe, Asia and even Latin

America, an Obama White House could significantly improve relations

with a number of countries that feel neglected or slighted by Bush’s


And with Obama having

spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, it is possible that his

foreign policy would put more emphasis on restoring ties with Asean,

an important bloc of countries that the Eurocentric Bush

administration has largely ignored. Given the increasing competition

between the world’s sole superpower and its fast-rising

quasi-superpower, Beijing seems to have solid ground for its doubts,

if not suspicions, about an Obama presidency.