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Where Do Obama And Clinton Stand On China?

[ Posted Wednesday, March 26th, 2008 – 14:49 UTC ]

I sometimes wonder if the "reporters" covering the presidential candidates out on the campaign trail ever bother to read the front page of the newspapers, or whether they just flip to the campaign he-said/she-said stories about whatever trivial issue is being exploited in the press that day. Because time and time again during this campaign, large and substantive issues have reared their heads in American foreign and domestic policy (and politics), only to be completely and utterly ignored by these "reporters" -- who are being paid handsome sums of money to ask the candidates about such issues.

Take China, for instance. And Tibet. And Taiwan. And the Olympics. And Darfur. And lead in toys. And poison cat food. And human rights. And censorship of the media. And the American public debt being financed by the Chinese. And the dollar and the yuan.

Anybody know what Hillary Clinton feels on this complicated issue? Or Obama? Anyone?

It's not as if there haven't been stories about China in the news in the past year, while the campaign has been happening. So why don't we know what the candidates think, and (more importantly) what they'd do about the various aspects of the situation?

Because in the near future -- perhaps during the next president's tenure in office -- China will eclipse the Middle East and terrorism to be our number one foreign policy challenge. So it would be nice to hear if either Hillary or Barack has some sort of plan. Or even some random thoughts on the issue. Foreign policy isn't just the Middle East. It's supposed to be a rational way for America to interact with the rest of the world.

For those of you too young to remember, America's foreign policy when I grew up during the Cold War -- say between World War II and the dissolution of the Soviet Union -- was simple enough to be contained on a telegram:

"Communism is wrong and bad. Capitalism is good and right."

That was pretty much it. Even "democracy" didn't enter into it much. America was just fine supporting tyrants and dictators and strong-men around the world -- as long as they were sufficiently anti-communist. Saddam Hussein, for example (see: photos of Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein smiling and shaking hands in the 1980s).

But let's not get sidetracked. During the Cold War, we fought proxy wars against the evil commies, both the Soviet Union and China. It (thankfully) never escalated to open warfare among superpowers, but everyone knew that we were on one side and the Chinese (as in Korea and Vietnam) were on the other.

Again, for those of you too young to remember any of this, "communist" was the worst and scariest word in the language for roughly fifty years in American discourse. Think of today's "Islamic jihadist" or even "terrorist," and you won't even have scratched the surface of the blinding hatred and fear that the word "communist" evoked in the American public.

The Republicans rode this anti-communism like a surfer on a giant wave. Democrats had to continually prove, over and over again, that they were sufficiently "anti-communist." It was the most powerful "wedge issue" of the twentieth century in American politics.

By today's measure, at least the issue had clarity back then. Because our foreign policy since the end of the Soviet Union has been schizophrenic (at best) in comparison. Can anyone rationally explain the difference in how we treat Vietnam and Cuba, for instance? We fought a war in Vietnam which killed around 60,000 Americans, we lost, and the godless commies took over. Flash forward a couple decades, and they're a favored trading partner -- even though it's the same government that beat us in a war. Conversely, we never actually fought a war with Cuba, but because we really, really, really hated Fidel Castro, we still don't talk to them at all. United States citizens are to this day banned from visiting an island 80 miles outside our borders because we hate Castro so much. Is there any logical reason for this vast chasm between the ways we deal with these two countries?

But Vietnam and Cuba are small potatoes on the world stage. China is not. Unfortunately, China is still communist as well. But now, the American economy has become almost inextricably joined to the Chinese economy. They make our toys (for children and adults), they (increasingly) supply our food, and they hold a larger and larger slice of our national debt. The more this increases, the more leverage they're going to have over us. And their economy is growing, as is their need for oil. Remember, they have four times the amount of people we do.

Because they are so important to us economically, we have less and less leverage with them. Which means in the foreseeable future, they're going to listen to our complaints less and less as well. About Darfur, or human rights, or Tibet, or Taiwan, or anything else they see differently than we do.

With the upcoming Beijing Olympics, and with the inevitable protests and outcries which will take place before, during, and after the Olympics happen, it would seem that the politics of the issue should worth raising in the campaign for President of the United States.

But the media hasn't thought so, at least not yet. A quick look at the two Democrats' campaign sites reveals that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have statements on the recent election in Taiwan. Barack also has a statement on the troubles in Tibet, to his credit.

But neither one of them makes any bold statements of change in American policy toward China. Or even tries to explain how, since we've awarded them permanent "Most Favorite Nation" trade status, we're ever even going to influence China's behavior. Obama actually addresses the issue of the Olympics in his Tibet statement:

This is the year of the Beijing Olympics. It represents an opportunity for China to show the world what it has accomplished in the last several decades. Those accomplishments have been extraordinary and China's people have a right to be proud of them, but the events in Tibet these last few days unfortunately show a different face of China. Now is the time for Beijing to take steps that would change the image people have of China later this year by changing the reality of how they treat Tibet and Tibetans. Now is the time to respect the human rights and religious freedom of the people of Tibet.

But neither Obama nor Clinton are calling for any real change in our China policy at all. Saying "now is the time" is awfully passive, and while both nibble around the edges of expressing concern about China, neither one really answers any questions with their statements.

The media are not totally ignoring China, it should be pointed out. Especially since France and Germany have made recent noises about possibly boycotting the Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing. The Washington Post just had an excellent article on the International Olympic Committee's responsibilities (and inaction) toward China this year. Bloggers are addressing concerns about China as well. Other facets of our relationship with China (lead in toys, nuclear triggers -- whoops -- sent to Taiwan, etc.) are fairly well covered as factual news items in the mainstream press.

But it never seems to get through to the folks reporting from the campaign trail. Why haven't the campaign press been asking every candidate: "Given the situation in Tibet, if you were president right now, how would you handle the situation during the upcoming Beijing Olympics?" Or: "Given that Taiwan is a democracy, do you support their independence? Or do you support their dominance by communist China?" Or: "Are you worried that China could manipulate the dollar's value on the world market, and what would you do about it?"

Because I think the American people deserve to know what sort of China policy this country will have in the next four years. But in order to find out, the questions need to actually be asked by people who have the access to the candidates.


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


2 Comments on “Where Do Obama And Clinton Stand On China?”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    You won't ever get Hillary "Taking Sniper Fire" Clinton to take a stand on anything. Especially something that might bite her on the ass down the road..

    However, I am somewhat disappointed in Obama. He has been acting more and more like the quintessential politician as of late. For the record, that is NOT a compliment. Very disillusioning.. Kinda like finding out that your parents aren't perfect..

    Regarding Hillary's "heroics", I read the funnest thing yesterday...

    ""If getting shot at by sniper fire qualifies you to be president, then there are thousands of guys in the military right now who are way more qualified than Hillary Clinton to be our next president.""

    To quote Homer Simpson, "It's funny because it's true!!!" :D


    While FL's Dem votes are still in limbo, I have a good solution for MI. If I recall correctly Obama, in deference to the DNC, removed his name from the ballot. The result was 55% for Hillary and 44% for
    "Uncommitted".. It seems to me that the best solution for the MI issue is to simply give all the votes for "Uncommitted" to Obama, since it is likely a vote for "Uncommitted" was a vote for Obama.. That would at least allow the illusion that the MI Dem voters counted...

    FLORIDA (my state) is so fracked up, we're beyond help...


  2. [2] 
    akadjian wrote:

    I did a quick search on McCain as well and his stance seems to be that we need more military presence in China.

    “There is nothing we can do about China’s growing strength” McCain said while campaigning in New Hampshire.

    But we could work on improving our economic strength. No? Maybe ... idunno ... borrow less, spend less. Crazy talk.

    Anyway, the thinking seems to be that no matter how far our economy falls we will be just fine as long as we have military might. The trouble with this policy is that an economic crash might tempt us into a much larger war.

    It will be an interesting time. We seem to be all for capitalism as long as we are on the winning side. I wonder how our "ideals" will hold up if the Chinese stopped sponsoring our government. My guess is that suddenly, you guessed it, communism would be back.


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