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The Barack effect on Beijing

world Updated: Nov 07, 2008 10:02 IST
Reshma Patil

“We (chinese) think that American society is based on white men,” Zhang Yan or Tommy, 33, told the Hindustan Times the day Barack Obama became the next US President.

Tommy owns a public relations company in Beijing, speaks English and follows US politics. But his America view is like that of millions of Chinese netizens to the street-side dumpling sellers. “That white men voted to be led by an African-American really surprised me and a lot of Chinese youth,’’ he said. “It’s a reflection of American freedom.’’

Inside the Communist nation where persons from ethnic minorities rarely rise to major leadership posts, and whitening face creams are high in demand, Chinese citizens love the idea of President Obama — despite his talk of using diplomacy to induce ‘change’ even in the China context.

In April, Obama snubbed China’s human rights record and said he would not have attended the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. Unlike the Bush team, Obama has dared to say that China’s trade surplus with the US is ‘directly related to its manipulation of its currency’s value’.

“China must change its policies, including its foreign exchange policies, so that it relies less on exports and more on domestic demand for its growth,” he said in a letter to a US textile organisation, released last week.

But do the Chinese care? An October online poll conducted by the US Embassy on the China Daily website found 75 per cent of the Chinese polled supported Obama.

“Perhaps his age, energy and even complexion, which signify the US dream, are more appealing to the Chinese,’’ analyst Song Zhiyuan was quoted saying.

China does anticipate tense moments in US relations. Shen Dingli, Director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, told the official news agency Xinhua that trade friction with the US will become ‘inevitable’. The Chinese leadership will also react strongly if Obama shifts US stance on Taiwan, over which China claims sovereignty.

As soon as Obama won, the China Daily website released a gushing commentary: We are elated, too, at the landslide win of Democrat Barack Obama.”

But somebody in authority frowned at the State-run paper’s emotional reaction. The word ‘elated’ was later toned down to ‘excited’. Change had begun.