While both Obama and Romney claimed to be tough on China, they may not be aware that many Chinese across the Pacific Ocean were paying close attention to this year’s election race.
A survey done by the Pew Research Center indicated that over one third of Chinese paid close attention to the 2012 presidential election in the U.S. in comparison with 17 percent in 2008.
On the eve of the Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in which the arrangement for the next administration will be announced officially, the presidential election of the United States, often described as a hypocritical game about money in ideological propaganda, caught much more attention than China’s decennial political transition on Sina Weibo, one of the most popular social networking websites in China.
“I went to work today, only to find that the Americans in my company cared less about the presidential election than my compatriots on Weibo,” said a user named “Buyer Tete in New York” on her Weibo.
Sina Weibo, Twitter’s Chinese counterpart, was reported to have agglomerated over 300 million registered users in less than four years running, among whom about 10 percent are daily active users. At the end of the second day of National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the internal search engine of Weibo showed 2,186,322 results relating to American Election, in contrast to 27,691 for the domestic political meeting.
“No media organizations are reporting the Chinese meeting except the China Central Television,” said Qiu Shi on Weibo at 9:51 P.M. on Election Day. Qiu is an editor of current affairs channel at ifeng.com, a website mainly serving the Greater China region.
Sina Weibo also conducted a poll, asking the netizens whether they prefer Obama or Romney. About 7,000 people voted by November 9, and the popularity ratio of the two was 4 to 1. “Actually you can see that ‘Obama’ is a more popular topic than ‘American Presidential Election’ on Weibo,” said Luo Ting, who works at the Sina Product Division. “After Obama won, his victory speech went viral on my own Weibo page.”
Contrary to the prevailing support for Obama, some Chinese scholars and economists pointed out that Romney might actually be more favorable to China. “It’s a pity that Romney lost the contest…Were he elected, it would be more beneficial for both China and U.S.,” said Zhou Kecheng, a Chinese economic commentator, on his Weibo page. Zhou provided a link to his article, arguing that while on the surface the wealthy will have to pay more taxes under the Obama administration, eventually the poor will have a larger economic burden. Governmental intervention can not save American economy. Zhou also supports Romney’s attitude towards China because he believes that it would push China to follow the rules in international trade.
Because the Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China was around the corner, Sina didn’t design a top-of-page banner for the American election despite its popularity on the site. “And you can see much more ordinary users were interested in the election,” said Luo. “But most tweets about the Communist Congress were written by media organizations.”
Luqiu Luwei, a famous correspondent of Phoenix Television, said on a Chinese talk show that there is a much bigger scale of Chinese population observing the American presidential election. “I think the enthusiasm resulted from the lack of similar experience of Chinese,” Luqiu explained on the program. “We don’t elect our president, so we are curious about how others do it. And we project our enthusiasm and aspiration on American election.
Sina Weibo is just one of the social media sites in which the American presidential election has attracted enormous attention. Tencent Weibo, which also claims to have 300 million users, also heavily promoted the election coverage. It even sent a team of scholars to the 2012 General Election.
Despite the online chatter, some Chinese are not convinced.
“I don’t think there are really so many Chinese caring about the U.S. election,” said Xue Yue, 22, a Chinese citizen who’s planning to go to U.S. for higher education, and a 3-year user of Sina Weibo. “That the American foreign policies will affect China and the differences between the two political systems are two major reasons why the U.S. presidential election became such a heated topic. But most netizens just retweet because others are talking about it. Many of them do not really know much about the American General Election.”
Still, that didn’t stop the online conversation. After the regime was established in 1949, decisions of political succession in China have been made covertly. But the decisions are open secrets after they are made. In referring to this phenomenon, a joke was very popular on Sina Weibo: “The American election system does not worth mentioning, because they don’t know who’s going to be the president on the day before Election Day.”