Tuesday, November 4, 2008

American Election and Chinese Rice Bowl

A few days ago, China’s Southern Metropolitan published a column with the headline “The game of accusing China resumes in the last minute?” (h/t ESWN) The article comments on Obama’s letter to the National Council of Textile Organizations last week, in which Obama blames China for the US trade deficit, requesting that "China must change its policies, including its foreign exchange policies, so that it relies less on exports and more on domestic demand for its growth." He vows to use "all diplomatic means," if elected, to make that happen.

(photo by Maple Xu, all rights reserved)

Unlike the LA Times report that quotes some Chinese who brush off Obama’s words as rhetoric, the columnist at the Southern Metropolitan attributes the statements to Obama’s persistent protectionism, and dolefully predicts that, if his policy is to be realized, southern China’s unemployment rate would increase. Under the article, a couple of readers commented that McCain as the US president would be more beneficial for China than Obama.

But this is not the first time we’ve heard that the Chinese should increase their domestic consumption, and it is more than simple American protectionism. While it seems doubtful that this would be enough to make up for the lost consumption from America, it may be time to pursue this. China has built its growth on demand from the rest of the world, but it is more than demand that has made that growth possible. Not only have Chinese factories been producing goods for others to use, they have been employing the production methods that others have perfected. This catching up - bolstered by having the very companies that developed the techniques help implement them - has supported phenomenal growth. Now, however, China has caught up in many areas of technology and really is only getting the benefit of the demand. Clearly some adjustment is required, given differing tastes and needs, but it does not make sense for Chinese people to pick up more of the burden of consumption - America cannot continue to do it alone.

Coincidentally, just yesterday I saw that WSJ translated Premier Wen Jiabao’s essay, which also says China should boost its domestic demand. It is good to see China’s leaders have further horizons than the aforementioned columnist.

On a note related to the US election, many media outlets have published polls and reports to show a largely uninterested Chinese population, for example see the recent Gallup poll. This should not come as a surprise. Why should the majority of Chinese people be interested? The US president is not the one who cares about their rice bowl.

Among those who are interested, however, the opinions seem more diversified than the polls’ indication of Chinese preference for Obama. Beside the aforementioned columnist at the Southern Metropolitan, as a Chinese student studying journalism in the US blogged about, many comments left in a chat room on Baidu.com are not very complimentary of Obama (whether those opinions have any sound basis is another question).

In contrast to mainland China, I see an increasing interest and participation in the election this year among my Chinese friends in the US. The dramatically more exciting characteristics of the candidates, both the presidential and vice presidential, certainly have been a major attraction. Before the primary, most of my Chinese friends preferred Hillary Clinton over Obama or McCain, which made me, the Obama supporter, an absolute minority. Now they distrust Palin’s ability to lead so much, Obama becomes the no-brain choice. “I wouldn’t have minded McCain if not for Palin,” one friend told me. None of those friends are either Democrats or Republicans, as such party lines don’t concern them. It is the personal impression from each candidate that affects their voting decision.

It is also interesting – though not surprisingly – to note that the question of which candidate would carry more beneficial policies toward China has never entered our consideration. In this case, it is our own, Americanized Chinese rice bowl that matters more.

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