Election-watch 2006: Shanghai edition

I have met exactly one person in China who professed admiration for George W. Bush. This was a retired senior PLA officer, no softie himself, who said he respected Bush because "he is tough man." The more common Chinese view resembles what Americans have gotten used to hearing in England, France, Japan, [choose your country] since the run-up to the Iraq war late in 2002. People think the Bush administration has been too high-handed, too ham-handed, and a lot of other things that resemble the way Democrats in America have felt. The day after the midterm elections I was talking to a Chinese academic who said that what Iraq really needed was a strong-willed leader. He got a twinkle in his eye and said, "Why not send them Bush!"

The difference is that the Americans who don't like Bush and his team are generally happy about the recent election results -- and the Chinese are not so sure.

The Bush Administration has not been popular among Chinese, but it has been useful to China. For one thing, perhaps the main thing, it has been distracted by Iraq. "Like a dog with a bone," is the way a well-connected Chinese friend described it recently. "Too busy to pay attention to anything else." "Anything else" covers the range of things the United States might be bothering China about if its foreign policy weren't dominated by the need to deal with Iraq and minimize other countries' complaints about Iraq. For China this is the familiar list of contentious questions: human rights policy, trade and copyright issues, currency, etc etc.

Moreover, Nancy Pelosi has been bogeymanned in China in a way that has startled me. The Americans who knew about her before the election were either her constituents or those who'd heard the bogeyman line from the GOP: that she was a dreaded "San Francisco Liberal." She seems to have been relatively more famous here than in America, and as the evil symbol of "anti-China" forces in the United States. This is based, most famously, on her having stood in Tiananmen Square in 1991 and unfurled a banner saying "To Those Who Died for Democracy in China." Well-informed people here can reel off a list of speeches she has given about human rights problems in China -- and they know that while her district in San Francisco has a heavy Chinese representation, many are from Taiwan and not friendly to the Chinese central government. Less-informed ones just know her as an enemy.

(Maybe the really well-informed ones will take heart from the latest Murtha-Hoyer dustup and conclude that Pelosi is not going to have that much influence.)

With a group of Chinese university students I tried at one point to discuss the difference between being "pro-human rights" and being "anti-Chinese." I don't think it worked.

What many people here know about Republicans is that they don't like George Bush's style or his handling of Iraq. What they know about Democrats is that they're likely to talk more about economic problems with China and political-liberties in China. Chuck Schumer is becoming as famous for his plan to force a revaluation of the Renminbi as Pelosi already is.

For another day: the big-think question of how the U.S. could make its views properly understood in China -- and, obviously more important, what those views should properly be. Also for another day, why I think Schumer's bill is a bad idea. For now: much of the world is unambiguously happy about America's mid-term elections. There is enough ambiguity in China's reaction (as I've seen it from here, in the financial but not political capital) to go around.