As the U.S. presidential election continues to shape up, most voters care about how each presidential hopeful will influence their life personally, when in reality the scope of our next president's policies will extend far beyond the U.S. borders.
The once full field has been whittled down to Barack Obama and John McCain as the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees. Both candidates pride themselves on being independent thinkers, but there's a stark contrast between the fresh-faced self-professed agent of change, and experienced "political maverick."
Of the two, there seems to be much more global fascination with Obama, but much of it stems more from who he is, than his actual policies and platforms. In April he was the first non-Chinese to be Baidu.com's "Person of the Month," putting him in the same league as Yao Ming and TV star Xu Sanduo.
China's ex-pat community has also been solidly behind Obama, and this week Obama's senior foreign policy advisers will make some stops that are not usually on the campaign trail.
This Tuesday Ivo Daalder and Phil Gordon will meet with supporters in Beijing, before heading to Shanghai on Thursday. At a cost of $1,000 USD for a VIP reception with the advisers, and $50 for students, the event isn't cheap, but considering Obama's substantial support overseas from groups like Americans in China for Obama, they'll probably be very well-attended.
While Obama has won the hearts of China's ex-pats and Internet users, he hasn't endeared himself to those in China's state-run media. Earlier today, the People's Daily ran a critical editorial on the "Obama Phenomenon." (Here's a rough English translation from the original article. Interestingly, the officially translated article omitted a section describing how McCain picking up the red phone at 3 a.m. would be far more reassuring for most Americans.)
The editorial, written by senior editor Ding Gang, downplays the historic significance of Obama's race in securing the nomination. He says Obama's success "is because he does not underscore his racial features, and has even intentionally drawn a clear line with those radical blacks." If anything, he says, "his rise has not done away with privileges for the white Americans but reinforces their privileges on the contrary."
He downplays Obama's stance on Iraq, the economy, and education to be oversimplified, and states that the president's authority is too limited to achieve the immediate types of wide-reaching changes Obama proposes.
The AFP, which wrote about the editorial, ended the piece saying that Chinese traditionally prefer Republican candidates because they tend to focus less on human rights issues. This is an interesting perspective, but it misses the point of the editorial. First of all, many of the most ardent human rights supporters in Congress, like former presidential hopeful Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), or Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Chris Smith (R-NJ), are Republicans.
Secondly, the editorial did not mention anything about human rights. Instead, it's about change.
Ding's reflections on U.S. presidential politics are especially interesting coming from a Chinese perspective. Some of his sentiments, such as those that "a lot of pre-conditions and time" are necessary for social change to occur, could just as easily be Chinese leadership talking about China.
The tension between the Chinese Internet users praising Obama's telegenic family, web-savviness, and charismatic personallity, and the Chinese media admonishing citizens to not be carried away by Obama mania, could also easily apply to an array of domestic issues within China.
If China could vote in the upcoming presidential elections, there probably wouldn't be uniform consensus nationwide. But the greater question isn't who Chinese citizens would vote for in the U.S., but who they would choose in a Chinese election.