US Elections and China

During the US election quite a few candidates ran ads blaming their opponent of shipping American jobs overseas, to China. The accusations mostly came from Democrats, including Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer, toward Republicans but it was a bipartisan effort.

Mostly it seems like these ads are picking on China, not out of any inherent China hatred, but because job loss is a compelling argument to people in tough economic straits–the old protectionist ‘they took our jobs’ phenomenon. Still, to blame any one person for macro-economic trends is at best flawed logic and at worst intentionally duplicitous, not to mention it’s effect of drumming up nationalistic fear.

It also plays into the long-standing stereo-type coming from China that the US is jealous of China’s rise and intent on damaging China’s economy to keep the country down. These ads add wind to the sails of China’s most extreme and unproductive rhetoric.

The China Daily article covering the elections made several references to candidates blaming China for American problems, and the paper’s headline opinion piece ran under the title, “China becomes scapegoat of American illness in mid-term elections.”

That editorial is also an example of how the US election played into another growing theme in China: American decline. The US has an ‘illness.’ That American voters have swung back from the big Democratic push in 2008 to support Republicans this year is a sign of destabilizing polarization. The Global Times, a major government newspaper, put it bluntly, as a result of the elections, “the US is bound to see a decline in it’s global influence.”

But perhaps the biggest nod to American decline came out of the US itself, in a Republican campaign ad. The ad opens in 2030 on a Chinese professor describing the decline of great empires. “America tried to tax and spend themselves out of a great recession…Of course, we owned most of their debt,” he says to his students. “So, now they work for us.”

Whether or not you buy the causality argued for in the ad, it clearly plays to a fear of America losing the cosmic power battle to China. John Pomfret, in a piece for the Washington Post, connects it to growing worries among Americans about China’s economic power and recent military expansion.

America has long been shaped in the Chinese eye as a rival, now it looks like the US is returning the favor.

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