Today's date:
Winter 2009

If Americans Accept Obama, They Can Accept a Rising China

Wang Jisi is the dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University.

Beijing—Chinese reactions to Barack Obama’s election were mixed and confusing. The last few public opinion polls before the election showed a vast majority of Chinese respondents supporting Obama and anticipating his victory. However, among Chinese intellectuals and elites, who are supposedly more knowledgeable about international affairs, including some senior specialists on America, stereotypes persisted.

Some of them believed that “America could not accept a black president.” Many in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong predicted that something dramatic, similar to John F. Kennedy’s assassination or Chen Shui-bian’s mysterious “bullet event,” would happen to disrupt the process. To them, America, after all, is a nation full of conspiracies, from the alleged “discovery” of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear devices to the machinations that precipitated the current financial storm.

These suspicions reflect a common image of the United States in China: a white-dominated, highly competitive society that believes only in power politics and the “rule of the jungle.” Just as America would not elect a candidate from an ethnic minority, this thinking goes, neither would it ever accept the rise of a non-Western nation—China. Instead, America would do its utmost to contain and weaken China unless it changes into a country like Japan.

Now that the election is behind us, it’s time for both Chinese and Americans to view each other anew. Chinese should see the US as a nation not necessarily discriminating against people or nations that are racially, culturally or politically different. Americans should see China as a rapidly changing society whose emergence may help solve the world’s common problems, among them financial turbulence, the energy shortage and climate change.

As most Chinese hail Obama’s triumph, it’ll be up to the new president to grasp the opportunity and demonstrate America’s willingness and ability to adapt to the changing realities.