China is a frequent focus of criticism on the U.S. presidential campaign trail, but Chinese Premier Li Keqiang believes relations will continue to move in a positive direction regardless of who wins the race.
Speaking with reporters at his annual press conference Wednesday, Li described the U.S. campaign as “lively” and “something that has caught the eye of many.” He said little, however, about the specific views of the candidates.
“I believe that in the end, no matter who gets into the White House, the underlying trend of China - U.S. trends will not change,” Li said.
The premier said that while differences between the world’s two biggest economies are undeniable and in some cases sharp, many have been ignoring the fact that last year, China became the United States’ biggest trading partner, with two-way trade between the two countries reaching $560 billion last year.
“This in itself shows that common interests between the two countries far outweigh the differences,” he said.
If only it were that simple.
China, China, China
On the campaign trail, real estate mogul and Republican Party contender Donald Trump has been one of Beijing’s biggest critics. He has mentioned China so many times in interviews and in speeches that there are popular mash-up videos circulating online of him saying “China” over and over.
Trump has repeatedly blamed China for stealing U.S. jobs. He has also argued that with his experience as a tough negotiator, he could find ways to beat Beijing at its own game and address what he has said are its unfair trade practices, such as currency manipulation.
He has also argued that while America has opened up its markets to China, Beijing has not reciprocated. Trump has said China uses a “Great Wall of Protectionism” to keep U.S. companies out and tilt the playing field in its favor.
Hillary Clinton, too, is no stranger to stirring up debates with Beijing. She has voiced concerns about China’s trade practices on the campaign trail and warned that as the Chinese economy slows, Beijing may take more actions that will damage practices in global trade.
She also has a long history of pressing China on women’s rights from the time when she was U.S. First Lady in the 1990s to more recent encounters.
In a Tweet last year, she called Chinese President Xi Jinping “shameless” for speaking on women’s rights at the United Nations while feminist activists were in jail in China.
That remark irked Chinese netizens and the party-backed Global Times accused her of being a “rabble rouser,” adding that she has turned into a “big mouth like Donald Trump.”
In a response statement, Clinton said that "if China believes defending women's rights is "rabble rousing," then they can expect much more of it from me."
Chinese officials rarely comment on U.S. elections because they feel that to do so would be meddling in America’s internal affairs. Instead, they prefer to focus on areas where the two are seeking common interests.
Li told reporters that despite differences, there are up to 100 exchange and dialogue mechanisms that have been set up between the two countries and that what is needed is “good faith” and for both sides to “properly manage their differences.”
“As our cooperation expands, the number of differences may naturally rise, but the percentage of differences in the overall China - U.S. relationship will only come down,” he said.