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Vincent Capone

Debate Blues: Chinese Web Commenters Bemoan Obama, Romney’s Increasingly Hard China Line

Obama and Romney's rumble echoed in the Middle Kingdom. Via Weibo

Last night President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney hit off their second debate of the 2012 presidential campaign series at Hofstra University, with a majority of analysts declaring Obama the debate’s winner. 

The candidates argued over a range of topics such as the embassy attack in Libya, social policy, and foreign relations. Most notable was Obama’s aggressive showing after being hailed as subdued in the first debate, a trait which seems to have won over his Chinese supporters on Weibo, China’s Twitter.

But Weibo chatter understandably focused on the fact that both candidates utilized their speaking time to reiterate a hard line on China. Governor Romney twice stated that he plans to “crack down on China when they cheat,” promising that “on day one [as president], [he] will label China a currency manipulator.”

Skeptical of Governor Romney’s promise, President Obama noted Romney’s investment in companies that he claimed were “pioneers of outsourcing to China.” Romney later shot back, demanding that Obama check his own pension, saying, “Mr. President, have you checked your pension account? Have you checked it? Let me give you some advice. Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States.” This snippet of the debate was quoted by Weibo user @芮成钢, reposted nearly 4,000 times and stirring up quite a debate itself amongst more than 700 comments.

Many comments expressed contempt for the nature of these politicians. @沙棘儿 replied, “Never trust the character of a politician.” Users @追风九重云霄 and @归之矣 noted the candidates’ contradiction to their affirmed hard stance on China, replying, “Politicians are such hypocrites.” Other netizens were less forgiving, with @去钓鱼岛耍耍 simply writing, “They’re liars!” 

A number of netizens appeared particularly disappointed by President Obama’s China stance, which struck many as having shifted in recent months. As @Butafly wrote, “Obama is taking the same position as Romney to bring down the Chinese” and @阳光里的小鱼儿 left wondering, “Who is Obama?” 

@合品一 vocalized a growing frustration amongst Chinese at having their nation’s trade activities dragged along the campaign trail, tweeting: “These are the usual tricks of the United States and we need not ignore it.” 

Last night’s debate featured both candidates calling to penalize companies that outsource manufacturing jobs to China, and calling out the Chinese government for its devalued currency. These attacks began with Governor Romney. Xinhua, China’s state media outlet, shot back at these allegations, saying, “China perhaps would be forced to fight back, and then [Romney’s] administration would be very likely to be on its way to a global trade war.”

Netizens also argued against these attacks, with @Franklin_Yan using his Weibo presence to speak on behalf of China, tweeting in English, “They spent a lot of time try to beat me [sic], instead of moving the country forward.” 

But Romney did have his supporters. @原野珍珠 repeatedly questioned Obama’s argument that Romney was an investor in Chinese companies which outsourced American jobs: “Who is this company’s CEO? Which company? What company? Where? Who can you ask is the chairman of the board? Last name? Speak. And what is the relationship with Romney?” 

While many cheered Obama’s revived performance, @Kita-Chi was left to wonder just how reinvigorated the President actually was, tweeting, “Watching the debate, Obama looks haggard. George W. Bush left him a bad mess to clean up, I think people no longer believe the phrase ‘yes we can.’”

Notwithstanding palpable disappointment in Obama, the general consensus among commenters remains support of President Obama’s re-election. @Butafly was left in awe of Obama’s closing remarks, commenting, “Who is dedicated to this country? Students, soldiers, everyone who works hard every day. I really loved Obama’s speech in the last two minutes.” 

As always, the question of democracy lurked in the background of Chinese commentary on U.S. politics. Obama’s performance left user @赵美敬 wondering she should go to cast her vote, tweeting “I want to cast my vote for Obama…wait, where is my vote?” 

Never one to miss a good chance to make his politics known, conservative Global Times editor Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) wrote:

“Obama and Romney’s second debate once again showcased the charm of American-style democracy. I trust that Chinese people watching the debate feel admiration—that includes me. But I also know that this kind of democracy is like an old [Western-style] bungalow with hundreds of years of history. It doesn’t belong to me, and we Chinese won’t be able to make a ‘shanzhai’ [i.e. knock-off] version. For the development of Chinese democracy, we will have to build our own house, one that’s handsome or even handsomer, one that brings us freedom and prosperity and becomes our pride.”{{Chinese}}[[Chinese]]奥巴马罗姆尼的第二场辩论再次展示了美式民主的魅力。相信中国人看了都会羡慕的,包括我。但我也知道,这样的民主就像一幢令我羡慕的有几百年历史的洋房一样,它不属于我,而且中国人也山寨不出来另一个它。中国的民主发展必须另造一个房子,同样漂亮甚至更漂亮,给我们带来自由繁荣,成为我们的骄傲。[[Chinese]]

With democracy likely a long way off, the consensus of more immediate impact is this: To Chinese, the two candidates’ China rhetoric is beginning to wear thin. With Election Day looming three weeks away, one can only wonder how much more flak China will receive along the campaign trail before it’s all over.  

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Vincent Capone

  • Letsbuildsomeguanxi

    There is such a danger in turning up the temperature on China rhetoric in the US… People in China have to cope with limited access to cogent news analysis and a sensationally nationalist tone on the web, not to mention the difficulties of the language/culture barrier. It can be so easy for relatively mild US nationalist discourse at the top tier of the political spectrum to be taken as deep-rooted hatred towards China as evidenced above. I hope that both sides of the aisle come to recognize that there needs to be a savvier approach which appeases American concerns about China’s rise while not directly vilifying the Chinese people.

  • Letsbuildsomeguanxi

    There is such a danger in turning up the temperature on China rhetoric in the US… People in China have to cope with limited access to cogent news analysis and a sensationally nationalist tone on the web, not to mention the difficulties of the language/culture barrier. It can be so easy for relatively mild US nationalist discourse at the top tier of the political spectrum to be taken as deep-rooted hatred towards China as evidenced above. I hope that both sides of the aisle come to recognize that there needs to be a savvier approach which appeases American concerns about China’s rise while not directly vilifying the Chinese people.