The second correspondent in our series looking at foreign coverage of the US presidential election is Li Xuejiang, Washington bureau chief for China’s ‘People’s Daily’, the state controlled newspaper with a circulation of three million.
Li Xuejiang works out of a spacious, sparsely furnished apartment in a curved building across the Potomac River near the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Li, 58, has been based in the US for two and a half years. He previously spent six years directing the Communist Party paper’s coverage of the South Pacific from Australia. Li also writes a column for the newspaper’s website two to three times a week.
Monocle: What things about the presidential campaign are of particular interest to Chinese readers?
Li Xuejiang: Generally speaking, the Chinese are very interested in international affairs, specifically the US situation right now. They are most interested in Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as one is female and the other is black, and this is historically without precedent.
M: Are there specific policies or positions of the candidates that you’ve highlighted?
LX: I have written on the Republican candidates’ policies on illegal immigration and how they are competing as to who is tougher. On the Democrats I reported that Obama is talking about change and Hillary is talking about experience. Both are dealing with racial issues and I’ve written about Hillary’s comments about Martin Luther King.
M: Candidates from both parties have accused the Bush administration of being soft towards China. How do you assess the role of US-Chinese relations in this campaign?
LX: The Chinese are accustomed to this kind of propaganda. Bill Clinton said he would not tolerate any dictators from Baghdad to Beijing. However, after he became president he had to improve relations with China. George W Bush also said he would take hardline policies, but three years later he started to improve relations. So the Chinese government and people are not worried about what candidates say.
M: As Americans face increasing economic worries, will China be more heavily criticised for its trade policy and its currency valuation?
LX: The economies of the two countries have become interwoven, and neither of them can act unilaterally against the other. If you go to an American supermarket and take away the Chinese products, that would cause a lot of difficulties. I believe that no matter who will be president, economic dialogue will continue.
M: Could the spotlight on China because of the Beijing Olympics lead candidates to take tougher positions on human rights?
LX: They have already started to criticise China in Sudan and in Burma. They say China should not do business with these countries and they also criticise China’s human-rights policies. Some right-wing hardliners even say there should be a boycott of the Olympics. The Chinese government thinks that the Olympics are a sports event and should not be politicised. If the Olympics are successful, criticism of China will be reduced.
M: Your paper is the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party and its director sits on the party’s Central Committee. What kind of editorial directives do you receive?
LX: I have not received any instructions from the party. According to Chinese policy they have the right to make changes, but usually they don’t make any. If I write any article objectively then I would not have any censorship or limitation because we serve the masses, not a small group of people.
M: How much do the personalities of the candidates interest you?
LX: Obama is young, full of sunshine, handsome and he attracts a lot of young people. He’s very charismatic and very eloquent. However, Hillary is a very capable and a very experienced politician. Some Americans don’t like her because they say she is too strong, too cold, and lacks femininity. However, the American people would never elect any soft female.
M: If you had to call the election today, who do you think will be the next US president?
LX: I never predict anything in my articles, but personally I believe that Hillary will win.
M: What does that mean for US-Chinese relations?
LX: If a Republican wins the presidency, they will look at China as a potential military threat. But economically, the Republicans tend to take a free trade policy and the economic differences between the two countries will be easier to solve. If a Democrat wins, it will be more difficult to solve our economic problems. They will emphasise human rights. Whatever party captures the presidency, there are going to be pros and cons. The Republicans will see China as a military rival and Democrats will look at China as an economic competitor.
How the sole superpower relates to the fastest rising nation is a defining element of this century. Neither enemies nor allies, they often pledge cooperation although there is recurring discord between them. China’s economic growth, ballooning consumption of natural resources, uneven human rights record and position as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases all contribute to tensions.
Amid claims that China’s cheap currency has helped to fuel the US trade deficit with the People’s Republic – in excess of €150bn – Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have co-sponsored legislation that would levy duties on Chinese goods to press Beijing into revaluing the yuan. Republican presidential contender John McCain has urged maintaining US military presence in East Asia as a “hedge” against China’s increasing global influence.
The Bush administration is pushing China to open its markets to American goods and services and to crack down on piracy. Both nations are cooperating on food safety. However, Beijing is only a reluctant supporter of US demands for UN sanctions over Iran’s uranium enrichment.
Founded: 1948 as the official organ of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. The paper’s Chinese name, 人民日报, is “Rénmín Rìbào”, according to standard Mandarin romanisation.
Circulation: three million.
Bureaux: 34 including Washington, Los Angeles, the UN, Russia, the UK, France, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia.
Distribution: published under the People’s Daily are 10 other newspapers including People’s Daily Overseas Edition, East China News, South China News, Market Daily, International Financial Daily, Jiangnan Times, Global Times, Securities Times, Health Times, Satire and Humour and six monthly magazines, including The Earth, News Front, Listed Companies, Times Trend and People Forum.