Author Profile Author Profile Sun Jisheng Dr. Sun Jisheng, Dean of the Dept. of English and Professor of International Studies, China Foreign Affairs University, is an astute observer of foreign affairs. In China, she notes: "People here and abroad often asked, "Are the Americans ready to accept an African American president?" On the other hand, she feels that "no matter who becomes the president, "What will not change is national interest [of the U.S. and China].
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Beijing on Barack Article

"Breakthrough for a Nation"

By Sun Jisheng


Obama’s win is a social breakthrough for the United States. He won the election by a great margin (55 percent of the popular vote). Before the final results, Americans discussed and doubted a lot, holding the view that it was very difficult for him to win. Ever since he announced his campaign, his identity as an African American was what people talked about and were concerned with. People here and abroad often asked, “Are the Americans ready to accept an African American president?”

It is really not difficult to understand all these doubts if we review the history of the African Americans. From the first Dutch ship carrying more than twenty slaves to the continent to President Lincoln’sEmancipation Proclamation, from the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed voting rights to all regardless of race, to the Rev. Martin Luther’s King’s “I have a dream” speech and Obama’s being elected today, each success is a victory after a long struggle and a starting point of a new one, not only for African Americans but also for all of U.S. society.

Although the United States has made lots of progress around cultural and social diversity, uncertainty and doubt towards African Americans unfortunately remains. People commonly have negative opinions towards African Americans in relation to their perceived crime, poverty and unemployment rates. Days before the final result, people still worried about the re-emergence of the “Bradley effect” (named after the 1982 and 1986 California gubernatorial races in which candidate and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who was black, was running for office; when asked, some voters said they would vote for him but in fact did not) which did not take place.

The United States thus has made another historic breakthrough towards its ideal of racial equality and social diversity.

Obama’s winning was also an inevitability. Everyone has to admit that Obama was, based on his academic and political track record, really a very excellent candidate. Not every excellent person can be the president, but whoever wins the election absolutely has to be excellent. The long electoral journey, which is not easy, is a test of a candidate’s character. Those who are not excellent definitely cannot persist to the end. Compared with Hillary Clinton, he looked young, energetic, easy-going and more important, he made common people feel that he was “one of them,” which helped him win tremendous support. Clinton seemed removed from the common people and too “elite.”

The U.S. in Crisis

What has happened in the United States over the past eight years made it very difficult for the Republican Party to win. Americans got tired of the Republican Party during these years and were eager to change. The Iraq War is almost another Vietnam War. America’s “hard power” and “soft power” have been damaged by this war. In the 2004 midterm election, the Republican Party lost both chambers of Congress.
Meanwhile, the United States is also facing the challenges from Iran and North Korea concerning nuclear proliferation. Russia’s voice is becoming stronger and stronger. Domestically, the current financial crisis is plaguing the United States and has brought about world economic turmoil as well. Once the world’s economic engine, the United States now must ask the rest of the world to help tackle the problem together. Americans have to rethink their way of life and urgently need someone or something to bring changes to the country and the Republican Party was not the choice of the people. Even if the Republican Party had nominated a younger candidate, it still would have been very difficult for it to win the 2008 election.

National Interests and China-U.S. Relations

As for foreign relations, every foreign policy has a long-lasting effect, and we can’t expect things to change within a day. What will not change is national interest: This is always the most important no matter who becomes the president. National interest, in my view, does not solely depend upon the will of a particular individual.

Generally speaking, China-U.S. relations have been going well during this decade, although sometimes there was friction. Most of the time, however, the two countries could follow the mainstream of cooperative and constructive bilateral relations, despite occasional ups and downs. Such had been the case during the terms of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. At the very beginning of candidate George Bush’s election campaign, he had defined China as a potential competitor. During his presidency, however, a lot of things had to be readjusted. Different candidates may have different slogans during the election campaign. After they become president, however, they have to choose their policy in light of the broader U.S. national interest. For China-U.S. relations, it is the same. During the campaign, Obama was criticized being weak in foreign affairs, as not having much international experience. Undoubtedly, Obama will be very careful concerning foreign policy making. What specific foreign policy guidelines will be made will largely fall into the hands of his foreign affairs team, guided by his own vision as president and commander-in-chief.

The world’s nations today are becoming more and more interdependent; China and the United States, two of the most influential countries in the world, are no exception. Everything has to follow the general framework between the two countries as developed and formed over the years. Currently the most difficult problem facing the world is the financial crisis and it is also the biggest challenge facing the new president. It spread from the U.S., but now needs the joint efforts of the whole world to deal with it, which has made it more important than ever for the United States to develop cooperative relations with the major countries of the world.

China is playing an active and important role during this process. A more friendly and cooperative China-U.S. relationship at this moment will not only benefit the two countries, but also the whole world. Obama surely will not miss this point. Therefore, we have every reason to be confident that the two countries will continue to develop their relations in a more active, cooperative and constructive way.

[keywords: Barack Obama, election, China, interests]

© Copyright 2009 by Sun Jisheng