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An Atypical Presidential Election
This year's U.S. presidential election has revealed a new trend in the nation's politics
By An Gang | Web Exclusive

The 2016 U.S. presidential election has reached its apotheosis. This race to the White House has been unusual due to its lack of focus on real issues, the unpopularity of both parties' candidates and the major influence of populism. As campaigning got into full swing, Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton gained the upper hand over Republican candidate Donald Trump.

A choice between the devil and the deep blue sea

Looking at how the electorate sides with the presidential hopefuls, Hillary's support comes mainly from the upper classes, minorities, women and feminists, while Trump has attracted hordes of voters from among the lower echelons of society. In a sense, this election offers U.S. society a choice between maintaining meritocracy and striving for change.

Since winning the primaries, though, Hillary and Trump have clearly become the most unpopular U.S. presidential candidates in history. Even worse, some voters see the election as nothing more than a choice between a rotten apple and a rotten orange, so to speak, and the election contest has degenerated into farce as both candidates have preoccupied themselves with criticizing their opponent while struggling to shake off all kinds of rumors and scandals. Such tactics, unfortunately, preclude meaningful policy presentations and discussion.

Trump held the lead in the opinion polls for a while and could have continued to benefit from the race's lack of focus on real issues. Recently, though, both public attention and presidential debates have focused on women's issues, and Trump's advantage evaporated after he made offensive remarks about women and accusations of sexual harassment surfaced. Moreover, the U.S. societal elite--including leading figures from think tanks, the media and political circles, in particular the Republican Party--strongly opposes Trump because of his radicalism on issues such as immigration and federal policy. Nonetheless, even if the business tycoon loses the presidential race, the "Trump Phenomenon"--characterized by the spotlight he has shed on the wealth gap, rigid socio-economic boundaries and demographic change--will continue to influence U.S. politics for some time to come.

Hillary, meanwhile, has faced a serious challenge in terms of her health. Although she quickly reappeared in public after recovering, she has failed to eliminate doubts about her ability to perform in office. Furthermore, both her political credibility and campaigning effectiveness have been called into question following a recent leak of emails. Even though she possesses rich political experience and enjoys an illustrious personal background, she has been confronted by adverse circumstances.

The wave of antipathy toward establishments, politicians and the political right-wing that has spread throughout the United States, and even the Western world in general, doesn't help matters. Under such circumstances, the next U.S. leader will have comparatively limited ability to effect change.

What about post-election China-U.S. relations?

If the presidential debates are anything to go by, regardless of who wins, the next U.S. government will likely focus on domestic issues initially--such as employment, living standards and tax and immigration reform--out of concerns for U.S. economic recovery and the nation regaining global clout. In terms of foreign policy, meanwhile, the United States is unlikely to make a showy display of its capabilities in the short term and will probably continue to place equal importance on engaging in dialogue with China and taking precautions to try to contain the Asian giant.

Difficulties in China-U.S. relations may grow stronger due to confrontation as China rises further and U.S. power wanes. Influenced by the changing domestic political scene, the next U.S. government may adopt a tougher stance and overtly demonstrate an attitude of economic competition with China. In addition, the shift in U.S. military focus to the Asia-Pacific region is unlikely to change in the wake of the election. And, if Hillary wins, the superpower's Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy will be systematically deepened.

As far as foreign policy is concerned, Trump advocates prioritizing U.S. interests and has emphasized that if fundamental interests of the United States are challenged, the nation should certainly take action. Trump-style diplomacy has generated worldwide concern due to its combination of isolationism and adventurism. As for relations with China, Trump focuses on economic and trade frictions and monetary policy. Moreover, to win popular support, he has accused China of being a major currency manipulator. Should Trump win, utilitarianism will be the most likely policy approach he adopts for dealing with China.

Looking Forward

Stable and constructive China-U.S. relations should meet the fundamental interests of both nations and facilitate improvement of the international environment. Moreover, they are necessary for the reform and deepening of global governance. China-U.S. relations will enter a highly sensitive stage in the period immediately following the U.S. election, when they will largely be shaped by the domestic political conditions of both nations. To properly manage their bilateral relations under these circumstances, China and the U.S.A. should give precedence to communication, cooperation and avoidance of misjudgments and accidents.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review and a member of Pangoal Institution

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

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