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Beijing: Bush or Gore -- Who Cares?

by Antoaneta Bezlova

Clinton quickly forgot "butchers of Beijing" comments
(IPS) BEIJING -- China's state-sanctioned media has remained almost universally silent on the November elections that will determine who will steer the course of U.S. policy toward the world's most populous country.

Officially, the Chinese government does not want to be seen as taking sides.

Yet there is another reason for U.S. elections to blacked out by the Chinese media: the staging of free elections -- even in a country halfway across the world -- is not necessarily welcome news in China.

"Americans can vote to elect their president and this is very different from the way things work in China," says Guo Shumei, a middle-aged saleswoman in Beijing. "The government doesn't like to give it lots of publicity so we know little about the elections."

Ordinary people know little, and care little, about who will win the November election and become the next U.S. president.

While many recognize Bill Clinton -- the first U.S. president to visit the country since Chinese troops crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 -- very few have heard of Democratic Party nominee Al Gore or Republican Party candidate George W. Bush.

Yet analysts seem to agree that whether Gore or Bush wins, it will make little difference in ties between the two countries.

"Whatever new or controversial (thing) the candidates say about U.S. policy on China, it is just to attract the attention of American people," asserts Li Shaojun, chief of the World Politics Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Once elected, those same candidates would become down-to-earth and realize the necessity of improving relations with China," he adds.

No one here has forgotten how in 1992 Clinton accused his rival, then-president George Bush, the current candidate's father, of "coddling the butchers of Beijing" -- comments that were quickly forgotten once Clinton won the presidential elections.

During his eight years in office, Clinton has followed a balanced policy of engagement with China. His administration is also credited with securing permanent normal trade relations with China, a trade status given by the United States to virtually every other country.

The establishment of PNTR removed a major hurdle for China to join the World Trade Organization, a campaign that has taken more than a decade.

Clinton has argued that promoting free trade is not just a strategy to increase U.S. exports in an increasingly global economy, but a means for spreading American-style democracy around the world.

"The differences between the two parties are being reduced day by day"
If Gore is elected president, Beijing hopes he will continue Clinton's policy of engagement with China and advocate its accession to the WTO.

A victory by Bush would leave Chinese officials more jittery, because he is pushing for a controversial national missile-defense system that is opposed by Beijing.

Chinese officials argue that Washington's plan for the missile-defense system would draw Taiwan into its sphere of protection. This, they add, would be an interference in Chinese affairs.

What also worries Beijing in Bush's platform is his intention to boost Japan-U.S. ties as part of his plan to support Washington's traditional alliances. This only reinforces fears that the Bush team draws too heavily on advisers from his father's administration -- advisers with experiences that pre-date the end of the Cold War.

Yet in a reflection of Confucian philosophy that emphasizes respect of parents, some Chinese observers believe that Bush's family background can actually play a positive role in his stand on China.

Bush's father was head of the U.S. liaison office in China in the 1970s, before Washington established formal relations with Beijing in 1978. Likewise, Bush senior is largely seen as a politician of goodwill toward China.

"The father and the son might not share the same political stand but the personal attitude is important," says Zhang Jian, a researcher with the China Strategy and Management Institute.

Both Gore and Bush promise to respect the "one-China" policy and work to bring about a peaceful resolution to tensions between Taiwan and China.

Bush supports the Taiwan Enhancement Act, which creates a framework for a far more intensive U.S. military relationship with the island that China regards as a renegade province.

While Gore opposes the act, he has sought means to reassure the people of Taiwan that they will be protected.

This week, Marc Ginsberg, his senior foreign policy adviser, declared: "We will do what we can to bring about a peaceful resolution, and while China is an important bilateral relationship, we are keen that it does what it can to engage the people of Taiwan."

Zhang and Li agree that no matter who is elected president, it would hardly alter the track of China-U.S. relations.

"It is hard to talk about bipartisan U.S. policy on China any longer, as the differences between the two parties are being reduced day by day," asserts Zhang Jian of the China Strategy and Management Institute.

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Albion Monitor October 30, 2000 (

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