Opinion / Featured Contributors

US presidential election will not affect Sino-American ties

By Harvey Dzodin ( Updated: 2015-08-03 15:46

One person whose position is much clearer is the likely Democratic nominee. Well known to China, she is former first lady, senator and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I can tell you from my visits to the White House and some up close and personal time with her and her husband that President Bill Clinton is much more charismatic than his wife, and although he is clearly no intellectual slouch, she is definitely smarter. As one of the architects of the US pivot or rebalancing toward Asia, we can definitely say that if she is elected, China and the US will continue to be the best of frenemies.

As friends and enemies, we will have our disagreements, large and small, but in our interconnected and interdependent 21st century world we will move forward in fits and starts, because there is no other sane choice. And unlike many of the Republican hopefuls, Hillary Clinton is an experienced political realist. She is so far ahead of each of them in political sophistication, foreign and domestic, that she stands out like Yao Ming in a pack of Pygmies!

It's difficult to foresee no matter who becomes president that Sino-US relations will veer too far off course. Each candidate will assemble his or her team of experts and hopefully, as is usually the case, will give reasonable advice and policy options to their boss. Plus with Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the US next month, the ongoing Strategic and Economic Dialogues, increased military-to-military contacts, the elements of surprise and suspicion on both sides are significantly reduced.

Nonetheless, there are some possible known-unknowns that can profoundly affect our bilateral relationship. One is a possible military engagement over disputed islands. The US is bound by treaty to defend countries like Japan and the Philippines if push comes to shove. Then there are the Taiwanese elections. If the now-favored Democratic Progressive Party wins in January 2016, relations will become infinitely more complicated. And regarding trade issues, the Trans Pacific Partnership and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank aside, failure to conclude a mutually satisfactory Bilateral Investment Treaty will complicate our economic relations. These potentially explosive issues and more could become front-and-center issues as 2016 progresses.

Be wary of rash statements, especially from Republicans, until their nominee is chosen months from now. The name of their game is to appeal to their base, which ranges from Tea Partiers and survivalists, right wing zealots, lots of Libertarians a la Ayn Rand, and a few moderates. Only after the nominee is chosen will it be possible, but with this crowd far from certain, that they will move to the center to try to attract the 10% or so of "undecideds" who usually tip the balance to one party or the other. Unless the known-unknowns involving China come to pass, China will not be a major factor in the election and Sino-American relations will continue much as they have the last decades.

The author is a senior adviser to Tsinghua University and former director and vice-director of ABC Television in New York.

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