Calum MacLeod, USA TODAY
BEIJING - Many Chinese reacted with pleasure at President Obama's re-election - and frustration at their own, tightly closed political system. Others expressed hope that a leadership transition that formally starts Thursday with a Communist Party congress will gradually introduce political reform.
Given the growing ties between the USA and China, the world's two largest economies, many Chinese doubted that the often harsh rhetoric toward China aired during the presidential campaigns would translate into significant policy change toward the Asian giant.
Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday congratulated Obama, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported. Hu said in a message that China-U.S. relations made positive progress in the past four years as a result of joint efforts.
Also, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, in line to be named the new Communist Party leader next week, congratulated Joe Biden on his re-election as U.S. vice president.
The results came late Wednesday morning Beijing time, when most of China was at work, but some citizens followed closely online, on TV and at an election results party held in a Beijing hotel by the U.S. Embassy for Chinese guests and media to experience the U.S. system.
"Most Chinese prefer Obama, as we know more about him, he's shown his ability over four years," said He Minjuan, after posing for pictures at the event between life-size cutouts of the two candidates. He, 25, researches early American literature at a university in Hohot, Inner Mongolia, where she uses videos of Obama speeches to teach English classes. "I like his passion. My students can learn his values, how to be a good man and his views of the world."
She enjoyed participating in a mock vote - she went for Obama - and recalled her single experience of voting in China, for university representatives to the local people's congress, four years ago. "It's just formalism, as we don't know who any of the candidates are. The real power is with the Communist Party, not the people's deputies and this is a real problem. But I have faith in my country and I have confidence it will change."
Liu Ming, director of a non-profit hotline for migrant workers in Beijing, said he was happy Obama won re-election "as Obama represents the workers and the underprivileged groups in society." China is slowly moving toward political reform, he said. "No one party can say it fully represents a country. China must let citizens participate more in the political process," said Liu, who hopes China's new leaders will grant equal rights to migrant workers who have moved to China's cities, and allow more space for civil society.
"Whatever candidates say in the campaign, once in office, the national interest is the most important. I don't worry about the effect on Sino-U.S. relations," said He Keyong, who teaches translation at the Minzu University of China in Beijing, and expects a more measured official Chinese reaction than in the past. "The Chinese government is more mature now, politically and internationally, they don't take sides and are not worried who wins," he said. "When the U.S. looks around the world, China is more and more there, so the USA has to engage with China."
The most scathing commentary appeared online, where micro-blogging has become the one public sphere in which Chinese enjoy a bit more freedom from censorship. "Whenever I saw the word 'swing states' in the U.S. election, I felt American people are shameless. Why couldn't a big country reach a robust consensus on such an important issue?" asked Li Chengpeng, a blogger with more than 6 million followers, in an ironic post that was deleted later Wednesday.
Delegates at every level in China "all firmly support, forever follow closely and are absolutely loyal (to the Party)," he wrote. "Seeing these delegates' expressions again yesterday on CCTV told me they not only won't "swing," they will pass a unanimous vote without blinking an eye. For this, they have already rehearsed 63 years. ..." (since the PRC's 1949 founding).
The U.S. and Chinese economies complement and help each other, said Lin Zhu, an executive at CITIC Real Estate, part of a large state-owned enterprise, who watched and welcomed Obama's win at the U.S. Embassy event. China already has embraced political reform, said Lin, a party member whose daughter studies in the USA, as does the daughter of Xi Jinping, the Communist Party's incoming leader. "I hope our new leadership will bring wealth to all Chinese citizens, make China stronger and have many friends around the world."
Hu Xijin, chief editor of the nationalistic Global Times, a party-run newspaper, congratulated Obama and the USA via his widely read microblog. "China and the USA should have a win-win relationship. (I) wish Obama deals with the China issue with outstanding ability, encourages China to achieve a peaceful rise, lets the world forever cast off the tragedy of great-power politics, and makes peace exist forever," he wrote.
Beijing-based democracy lobbyist Xiong Wei also offered Obama congratulations, a request to visit China more, and a question. "How do you plan to promote China's democracy and rule of law?" he wrote on the Sina Weibo microblog platform.
At the election party in the Chinese capital, U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke said he hopes his guests "will understand how intensely watched U.S. elections are. They're getting a glimpse of American democracy and just how it works."
Contributing: Sunny Yang