China has welcomed the election victory of Barack Obama. China’s President Hu Jintao on Wednesday congratulated the American president-elect and promised to expand dialogue and cooperation with his incoming administration. At the stock exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen indexes rose significantly on speculation that the new US government could take steps to bolster the world’s largest economy. Obama is popular among many urban Chinese – not least because of his age.
Chinese have followed the Obama campaign with great interest
Chinese citizens have never voted themselves for their leaders but in big cities like Beijing many have followed the American election campaign. On the campus of Renmin University, where students were enjoying the late-autumn sunshine, Barack Obama’s victory was welcomed by almost everybody.
"I like him very much because he’s young and he seems to be very powerful", said a young man. And for a woman, there was another consideration: "I like Obama, in my opinion he’s handsome and impressive!" A third student felt that being young was an advantage for Obama, as he was "more passionate and more active".In China’s one-party state it’s unthinkable that at 47-year old could rise all the way to the top. But apart from Obama’s youth, it’s also his ethnic heritage that has intrigued a lot of people. Many had thought a black man could never become president. They now hope that Obama could help America reach out to the rest of the world -- as one student put it: "He’s black and I think his policies will be good for black people in the US and for other people as well." "As the first black president of America, I hope he can be friendly to China and do something useful or be helpful to China", added a young man.
Economy high on the agenda
Amid the general sympathy for the former senator from Illinois, many Chinese have clear expectations. They want Obama to tackle the financial crisis that is also threatening their economy. The US is China’s biggest trading partner after all and exports have already suffered. Some students, like this young woman from the southwestern province of Yunnan, have high hopes for the Obama presidency: "He will save the world from the great financial crisis. He will take some great measures to save America."Academics strike a note of caution though. Leading political analyst Shi Yinhong warns that Obama has a reputation for being protectionist: "For Obama general trade issues and human rights issues could well lead to troubles between Obama and China. Obama might use this to raise America's prestige in the world and in this process he might oppose China."
But Professor Shi also says that in a globalised world America’s and China’s interests are often intertwined - especially in financial and economic matters. Therefore, a leadership change in the US would not rock Sino-American relations as much as it might have done in the past. Many issues like Tibet, regional security or human rights stay pretty much the same. At Renmin University the students probably couldn’t agree more. And the young people also have some advice for the president-elect: Treat China as an equal partner and don’t lecture us.
"Just keep quiet!"
"Just keep quiet", says a young woman. "Do not just always mention human rights, human rights, human rights like president Bush!" And another student adds: "China does have a human rights problem, but we are improving right now. Obama should respect China and should not put too much emphasis on this."
Whether Barack Obama will heed that advice and fulfill the high expectations in China is a different story.