December 4, 2008

Economix, New York Times

Hung Huang is chief executive of the China Interactive Media Group.
The United States presidential election this year was not well publicized in the Chinese press. The day that Barack Obama won the presidency, those of us who were excited had to contain our excitement, since most people had no idea why we were cheering at all.In the weeks since then, I have talked to a lot of local Chinese about Mr. Obama’s victory, and it seems there are generally two responses. The first is, “Does Obama like China? Is he going to be nice to China?” The second is, “If a black guy can become the president of the United States, so can a Chinese, right?”

The lack of excitement miffed me in the beginning until I saw an editorial piece in the Chinese newspaper Global Times. This newspaper carries a digest of the Western press, and its editorial is known to present the party line in Chinese foreign policy. The editorial was entitled “The Arrogance of America.” Its basic theme was that America and the American government have always been superior and self-righteous about democracy and the democratic system — and this intolerance of other political systems has led to the general arrogance of America and Americans around the world. The article goes on to say that the financial crisis should serve as a humble reminder that the American system is not flawless. However, the Obama victory will only boost the American ego and encourage more arrogance in international affairs.

It was then that I understood that the ideological divide between China and the United States was likely to be more pronounced during the Obama administration.

Mr. Obama personifies the resilience of the idea of America and of American democracy. By contrast, the Chinese, I believe, have tried to argue that a democratic political system is not necessary for economic growth and a market economy. In fact, China’s Communist Party argues that China’s economic success proves to us that democratic values are not universal. China is also now the biggest holder of United States debt, which gives it a bit of leverage in this debate.

The financial crisis had further proved to many Chinese that a democratic system has many faults. And the fact that the American government is buying equity shares of major banks, for example, is a sign that at the end of the day, we are all socialists. Indeed, employees of American banks are joking with their Chinese counterparts and saying: “We are the same now. We all work for state-owned enterprises.”

However, the victory of Mr. Obama has shown even the Chinese how inspiring the idea of America is, and can be, and will be. That is why this presidential election was not widely covered by Chinese media.

After the Olympics and the earthquake in Sichuan, most Chinese are pretty nationalistic. Without knowing the difference between a democratic system and the one we live under, most Chinese are quite ready to defend our way of life as well.