Congrats Obama, China says, remember we’ll keep a close watch

Last weekend, at a trendy pub located near a Beijing lake, locals and expats were mixing their drinks with politics. The snatches of conversation from different tables that I could pick up over the rhythm of Latino music were all about the US election – and, also, the change of leadership in China beginning Thursday.

China followed the US election with great interest. State media covered it in detail, devoting reams of newspaper and the national broadcaster, CCTV covered it very closely too.

The interest this time was heightened probably because both countries were heading for a change in regime at the same time; the timing of the two was perfect for the net savvy Chinese to discuss the different system followed by the US, a system based on one basic aspect they have never had a brush with – the ballot paper.

Just days ago, pop star Gao Xiaosong’s online explanation of the US electoral system drew more than 1 million hits in four days.

In a political cartoon circulated online, an American voter is shown covering his ears as the candidates verbally attack each other on TV, while a Chinese man struggles to hear anything from the Party Congress, taking place behind closed doors.

“The 18th Party Congress is a meeting for the party. We ordinary people can only watch it as an audience,” Wang Xiaojian, a 21-year-old Peking University student, told Associated Press. “The US Presidential election is a campaign that gets everyone involved.”

The Shanghaiist website circulated information about where to watch the counting day proceedings live.

At least one café in Beijing, according to the website, was offering free beer if Obama won.

The state media, which usually portrays the US as an adversary, followed up the election coverage with equally detailed coverage of Wednesday’s counting day — as closely as one probably should follow events inside a rival camp.

Reactions to Barack Obama’s return to power were pretty much widely and prominently carried online. The nationalist Global Times newspaper’s website had a picture of a smiling Obama in all most no time after the election result was announced.

Within hours of Obama’s victory, Xinhua was out with its first dispatch on where this win might lead the often-troubled relationship between the two big powers.

“I think that he will continue to use diplomacy, and certainly he used a lot of more diplomacy than (Republican candidate Mitt) Romney did,” US Democratic Party representative Judy Chu told Xinhua while attending an election night party held at the Boteco restaurant in the southern Calif. city.

“Romney was just very combative. I think it’s important to establish links and communications which President Obama was more successful in doing,” the representative told Xinhua.

Obama, who has handled China policy during his four-year term as the US president, has been very experienced in this area, Chu said, adding she didn’t think that Obama would change his policy toward China.

Chinese President Hu Jintao was also quick to congratulate Obama on his re-election as US President.

It will be interesting to see how Sino-US relations go forward now. Both Obama and challenger Mitt Romney had used strong words against China during the campaign and the televised debates.

As a recent commentary in Xinhua said: “One thing that Obama should bear in mind is never to use out-of-context results to defend his record in addressing trade with China. He said tariffs against Chinese tires created US jobs, but he omitted other chain effects which are not that pleasant: US consumers paid 1.1 billion US dollars more for tires because of the move, according to a report released by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.”

It added: ”The presidential candidates should also be mindful of going too far on bashing China, if they have to do so to win votes, since the specificity of their promise leaves them few options but to follow through. But they are strongly expected to wriggle out of their tough promises on China between election and inauguration.”

Enough fodder not only for discussions behind closed, diplomatic doors but also at tables at trendy pubs.

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