Congress of the Communist Party of China vs US Presidential Election

The Congress is scheduled to begin on November 8, just 2 days after the US presidential elections. So which of those two events should world follow more closely in your opinion, and why?

Lucien Ellington, Editor, Education About Asia302, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Perhaps I am an ethnocentric American but when, I try to compare these two events objectively, my strong impression is that the world will pay far more attention the day after the U.S. election, to the presidential results in the U.S. than to the upcoming National Congress of the Communist Party.

Why? The U.S. despite where it might be decades or even a few years from now, has the world’s largest military and the largest number of nuclear weapons in the world. Posturing and rhetoric not-with-standing, educated people everywhere know this. Who is commander and chief of the American military can potentially affect the whole world.

Also, by most GDP measures, the U.S. still has the world’s largest economy by far and the results of the election, no matter who wins, will affect the world economy in important ways.

Again, perhaps I am a biased American, but the freedom and democracy factor will probably draw more people’s attention than the “behind closed doors” machinations of a one party authoritarian state. The U.S. is the world’s second largest democracy and many people are still attracted to American ideas of freedom, democracy, and individual rights.

Jonathan Sullivan, Assistant Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Southampton

Undeniably these two events are of global importance, and it is a fascinating coincidence that they will occur almost simultaneously this year. The Chinese Communist party transition is largely a symbolic occasion, since the important decisions about personnel changes will have been made long in advance of being unveiled to the public. This year, too, the composition of the new politburo will not be a major surprise, but it comes at a time when the symbolism is even more important than usual, because the Party has had such an unusually tumultuous year. The fall of Bo Xilai, whom this time last year everyone expected would ascend to the politburo, has forced the party to deal with an internal conflict much more in the open than it would like. And while Bo’s fall is more to do with getting rid of a populist potential maverick than an ideological split, the congress is an important opportunity for the party to demonstrate its strength and unity. This necessity is all the more important because Xi Jinping will be the first leader who will not have been chosen by party elders–a leader who is more than ever before ‘leader among equals’. The party is facing many difficulties at home, and in many ways the timing is not ideal for a substantial change of this nature (the PLA is also undergoing a leadership transition). The party message prior to the congress is that nothing fundamental is going to change, and it is in everyone’s interest that this is so. The Xi regime may ultimately affect changes both domestically and in China’s foreign relations (and we may look at the congress for very subtle hints) but this will not occur in the short term.

The US presidential election is of more immediate impact. The two candidates espouse substantially different policies and world-views and, moreover, the race has tightened more than most expected just a couple of months ago. Compared to the 18th party congress, the result of the US presidential election will have a more dramatic effect in the near term.

Brantly Womack, Professor of Politics, University of Virginia

First, it is easy to exaggerate the importance of either event.  In the case of the US, Obama is likely to remain hampered by a Republican congress, while Romney is likely to be more prudent than his election rhetoric suggests.  In the case of China, the new leaders, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, were picked long ago, so the NPC is only their public unveiling.

Looking beyond the events, however, the chances for a more intelligent and interactive American global diplomacy will be reduced by a Romney administration.  The Chinese leadership is being set for the next ten years, and it is unclear whether the new leadership can rise to the reform challenges set by the downfall of Bo Xilai and the rise of electronic media.

Bernt Berger, Senior Researcher with China and Global Security Programme, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

We should observe both very carefully. Both countries can be expected to be more focused on the their domestic recovery. this. again, will determine how and to what extend they can engage internationally.

The US is still dealing with the effects of the Financial Crisis including high unemployment rates. China’s economy has been slowing down recently. A range of domestic reforms are necessary in order to make the Chinese economy more competitive and reach a higher level of innovation. In China the set up of the future leadership will indicate if reforms can be made easily or only after long consultations with several party factions.

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