Is China an ally or an adversary of the United States? The question, raised at seminars and US congressional gatherings all the time, dominated the televised public debate among Democratic presidential candidates in Chicago on Tuesday.
At a time when context is more important than the issue, almost all the speakers made tough-sounding speeches on China.
Those who followed the public debates between George W. Bush and Bill Clinton eight years ago might have been shocked by the present US president's verbal attack against his predecessor for his "too soft" policy toward China.
Today, Bush himself draws flak despite being quite successful in dealing with China.
That is what politics is all about in the US, or more specifically during the presidential campaign.
In Chicago, China came under fire from Democratic candidates who debated before an audience consisting largely of organized labor.
Asked whether China is an ally or adversary, seven Democratic hopefuls for the White House described it differently, as a leading competitor, a leading US creditor, a human rights violator, an exporter of dangerous products and a potential military adversary in the coming decades.
"I really doubt they (Democratic presidential candidates) were talking their minds in public. They just wanted to politicize issues related to China so that they can win more votes," said Shi Yinhong, professor of International Relations and director of the Center for American Studies in Renmin University of China in Beijing.
As the presidential campaign is heating up, it's becoming more like a political game and politicizing such issues seems to be a safe way of playing it, Shi said yesterday.
"Under such circumstances, their words don't necessarily mean what they were thinking or what they will do after winning the game, whether it is (Barack) Obama, (Hillary) Clinton or (John) Edwards or someone else because the context is more important than the issue itself," Shi said.
Making China an issue during the presidential campaign also means the country has developed rapidly in the past few years, whereas the US has been experiencing one of its hardest times in history, said Yuan Peng, director of the Institute of American Studies of China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
"With no end in sight to the Iraq war and its anti-terror strategy consuming its national resources and patience, the US is passing through its most difficult period," Yuan said.
"Its domestic problems have amplified the influences of China, a country that has had an excellent economic record in recent years," he said.
(China Daily 08/09/2007 page2)