China views US presidential election with calm, confidence

By Yang Sheng Source: Global Times Published: 2020/11/2 22:58:40

Two vehicles with public health messages drive past the Washington Monument on Sunday. As Election Day approaches on Tuesday, shops and important buildings in the capital boarded up against possible riots or protests, as tensions rise. Photo: Xinhua

 A day ahead of the US presidential election, Chinese people are paying attention to domestic affairs topics rather than the US election, and most of them are treating the US election as a "show." 

Chinese people and the government believe that no matter who becomes the next US president, China will focus on its own development, and will not put huge expectations on Donald Trump or Joe Biden to fix the bilateral ties, Chinese analysts said. 

US-focused Chinese experts are paying closer attention than the public and the media outlets  to 2020 election

Most experts said they are watching the election with calm and confidence with no clear preference, as they believe China's development and future do not depend on the next US president, but on efforts made by Chinese people and the government.

But Chinese experts warned that due to the intense US-China ties, China should pay attention to a potential "constitutional crisis" after the US presidential election, and in case of uncontrollable domestic conflicts in the US, the current president might use external issues to distract attention from the internal chaos, and China-US ties could be endangered. 

A hotspot?

Among trendy topics on Sina Weibo, Chinese Twitter-like social media platform, and some other major Chinese news portal websites, the US presidential election is not one of them, or at least was not the hottest one on Monday. 

Topics like the Double 11 shopping festival, the third-generation hybrid rice breaking the world record, and 5G telecom services were much more popular than the US election on Monday, while the US and many other regions around the world focus on the election. But still, the hashtag "#US election" received 2.7 billion views.

The US presidential election this year has received much less media coverage in China compared to the election four years ago when Trump competed against Hillary Clinton.

Chinese analysts said that, in recent years, especially after the trade war launched by the US, China has demonstrated strong self-reliance capability, so it is not an economic entity that's closely pegged to US politics.

Li Xiang, a Beijing-based journalist on international news and an observer of the US election, told the Global Times that "for most Chinese people, the US presidential election is just a show. They get entertained by the performance of the two candidates, especially Trump." 

On most Chinese major social media platforms, like Douyin, WeChat and Weibo, videos including Trump's highlighted moments like making jokes during speeches, dancing in  front of his supporters, and shocking remarks on COVID-19 and his rivals, will easily receive "likes" and be shared by netizens.

A video shared by the Global Times' Douyin account on Trump dancing at an election campaign event received more than a million "likes," and another on Trump saying he wants to "kiss everybody" after he recovered from the coronavirus shared by China Central Television's account got more than 320,000 likes.

"Another reason why Chinese media outlets and commentators are reluctant to report too much about the election is that we don't want to be used by US political forces as examples of China 'meddling in the US election,'" Lü Xiang, a research fellow on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday.

When Chinese mainstream media outlets, including the Global Times, report on the election, if any report or comment unavoidably compares Trump to Biden and shows some opinions from Chinese scholars, some US media and politicians, like Fox News, will say "Communist-run paper weighs in," or accuse China of "meddling in US election." So most Chinese mainstream media outlets would stay away from such reports,  Chinese observers said.

When most Chinese mainstream media stay neutral on the US election, some anti-China media outlets owned by fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, Hong Kong separatist activists Jimmy Lai and anti-China cult organization Falun Gong deeply meddle in the US election by spreading disinformation and rumors with attacks on Biden and his family.

"Americans should look at these facts and learn who is really meddling in their presidential election," Lü said.

Photo taken in Arlington, Virginia, the United States, on Sept. 29, 2020 shows C-SPAN 2 live stream of U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, speaking during their first debate in the 2020 presidential race.Photo:Xinhua

A big show?

Before Election Day, a series of chaotic incidents have occurred in the US, such as Trump supporters surrounding a Biden campaign bus in Texas, which the FBI is investigating.  The same day, many Trump supporters drove their trucks and cars to block traffic to interrupt the voting process.

Disinformation and rumors about the candidates' family members, such as the son of Biden, also spread widely online. More and more Chinese people see the US election as a "show," and Chinese experts said no matter who wins, the "fairy tale of the US democracy" is approaching an end.

On the first presidential debate between the two candidates, Chinese people viewed it as a "low quality talk show" and many people were already immune to anti-China remarks like stigmatization, provocations and racist remarks on topics like the COVID-19 pandemic, ideology, trade issue and Taiwan question.

"Chinese people increasingly treat US politicians like a joke rather than get mad at them," Li said.

George Floyd's death has led to a series of violent protests and the "culture revolution" style activities across the US, and the current conflicts between the liberal-left activists and far-right Trump supporters are the extension of the previous conflicts, said Chinese analysts, adding that the US political system and democracy are getting less and less attractive to the Chinese public.  

Li said this kind of divided and struggling society with anti-intellectual and anti-science ideological extremism "has reminded many Chinese of the Culture Revolution."

According to the Atlantic on Saturday, in the coming days during the voting, thousands of pro-Trump poll watchers are set to fan out across battleground states—smartphones in hand—and post themselves outside voting locations to hunt for evidence of fraud. 

This "army" has been coached on what to look for, and instructed to record anything that seems suspicious. The Trump campaign says these videos will be used in potential legal challenges; critics say their sole purpose is to intimidate voters, said the Atlantic.

Chinese analysts said it's very sad for the US since the quality of its democracy has been suffering, and these low and chaotic tricks are very similar to what the anti-government protesters and rioters did in Hong Kong during the 2019 turmoil.

Fan Yongpeng, a US studies expert and deputy director of the China Institute at Fudan University, said that "a divided society is actually part of the US political system. When the US has powerful national strength, these problems can be covered, but when the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors damaged the strength of the US, these problems will come to surface."

No matter who wins, "the fairy tale of the US political system and democracy will see its end, and the US will enter a divided process. Trump and Biden are unlikely to fix the problem," he said.

Constitutional crisis

Avoiding predicting the election result, Chinese scholars however warned that China should be prepared to face disruption to bilateral ties if a "constitutional crisis" happens in the US.

Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that "a landslide win would be fine. But if one side refuses to accept the result and claims it's unfair, or was interfered by foreign forces, and eventually elevates the matter to the Supreme Court, then the US will likely see a constitutional crisis."

Under this situation, China should be very careful and pay close attention to bilateral ties, as US leaders might start conflicts with other countries as a distraction, and China would be a target, Jin warned.

Jia Qingguo, director of the Institute for China-US People-to-People Exchanges at Peking University, told the Global Times on Sunday that if Trump get reelected, he will likely continue his policy to confront China, and a new Cold War between the two major powers is possible; and if Biden wins, he will also pressure China, but he might increase dialogue with China to solve some problems, and he will also seek cooperation with China on issues like climate change and nuclear non-proliferation.

Lü said no matter who wins, the Chinese people and the government believe they can only solve the problems and improve China-US ties by "getting China's own things done," and China believes in self-reliance and improving its own national power, rather than expecting a China-friendly US politician to get elected and fix US-China ties.

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