With the announcement of a presidential bid by Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton on April 12, many are starting to question what impact another Clinton in the White House would have on the world’s largest nation, China. During a speech as first lady back in 1995, she strongly criticized human rights violations against women in China at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing. During a 2010 trip to Vietnam, Hillary unveiled the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia”, much-hated in China for its attempt to address the imbalances of having a large regional economic and political player such as China play diplomatic hard ball against its smaller and weaker neighbors. During that visit, Clinton also called for a collaborative and peaceful approach to resolving sovereignty claims to the South China Sea, declaring the resolution of such claims to be a U.S. “national interest.”
Since then, Hillary has gone on to admonish China for its policy toward Tibet, internet censorship and its treatment of dissidents such as the blind lawyer-activist Chen Guangcheng — all documented in her 2014 political memoir, Hard Choices. Her provocative stance on many Chinese issues (most recently arguing for the release from detention of five women activists) has not sat well with Beijing. Many Chinese citizens, who despite respecting her as a formidable opponent, find her approach too domineering and aggressive. The Global Times, a state-owned newspaper known for its nationalist views, once called her the “most hated U.S. political figure.” Xinhua, the Chinese state-owned new service, has also attempted to discredit her ability to govern, writing “Hillary Clinton is 67 this year, and there have been rumored concerns over her health in the past.” The article continued, quoting experts who said, “From the point of view of the American voter, an even bigger issue is that Hillary presents a face that looks too old…she looks like veteran politician, the sort of politician that people are tired of.”
So while many Chinese are fearful of Hillary assuming the U.S. presidency, she is unlikely to get there based on her strong foreign policy stance on issues over China. The majority of U.S. voters are neither aware of events in the South China Sea nor have much interest in the territorial disputes. Far more prevalent in the minds of most voters are the turmoil in Iraq and Syria, Ukraine and Russia, and the spread of the Islamic State. Even so, foreign policy is not a major concern to most voters – before Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, only 20 percent of those polled by Pew Research Center rated foreign policy more important than domestic policy.
Unless the South China Sea ignites prior to the U.S. election, despite further minor encroachments on disputed territory by Chinese naval vessels or sand-dredging equipment, Hillary’s strong stance on Chinese issues will unlikely feature in the minds of most of the American electorate, who will vote mainly on domestic issues. Beijing will likely scale back and minimize its claims to sovereignty over the South China Seas and pray for a business-friendly Republican who is softer on human rights to enter the White House.