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Election ’08 and the Challenge of China - USCI Documentary

The U.S.-China relationship is complicated and is vital for both countries and the world. Where do Senators McCain and Obama stand on U.S.-China trade, security, environmental, and human rights issues? How important has policy toward China been in past elections and in 2008? These are the questions explored in a USC U.S.-China Institute documentary.

October 6, 2008

“China has and will continue to have a tremendous impact on our lives in the coming century on the prices we pay, how we deal with the common threats we face, and even with respect to the very air that we breathe.”
                                                            Clark T. Randt, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to China

Responding to the rise of China is arguably the most important foreign policy challenge the United States will face in the next fifty years. No bilateral relationship is more critical. The range of issues is daunting. On the economic front, bilateral ties have been strained by disputes over trade flows, product safety, currency values, intellectual property rights and China’s new appetite for investment abroad, including in the United States. China’s impact on the environment and its role in addressing the problem of climate change has assumed increasing importance. In terms of security, the U.S. has been concerned by China’s military modernization, insatiable quest for natural resources, and its role in such volatile hotspots as Darfur, Iran and North Korea. All these issues raise the broader question of whether China will become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. American policy toward China will play a key role in determining whether this emerging superpower becomes a partner or an adversary.

Despite its importance, however, China policy has not figured prominently in the presidential campaign, or in the media coverage of it. even in the just completed McCain-Obama foreign policy debate.

The USC U.S.-China Institute, with the assistance of the Pacific Council on International Policy and the USC Annenberg School of Communication, addresses this gaping hole in the discussion with Election ’08 and the Challenge of China, an eight-part video report examining the key issues in U.S.-China relations, the role the relationship has played in past elections, and the positions taken by candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

Reported by Mike Chinoy, former CNN Beijing bureau chief, the series traces the evolution of the U.S.-China relationship since the Nixon opening in 1972 and then explores key issues in the relationship today: trade, Taiwan, human rights, the environment and the changing global strategic landscape. Concluding segments focus on China as a campaign issue and the candidates’ positions on China. Election ’08 and the Challenge of China features the candidates speaking out on China, as well as historical footage and exclusive interviews with top policy advisors, influential former officials, and noted scholars. Clayton Dube produced Election '08 and Craig Stubing, US-China Today’s multimedia editor, filmed and edited it.

What does the rise of China mean for America? Election ’08 and the Challenge of China helps voters reflect on the big issues and the policies articulated by the candidates and their advisors.

Click on the links below to view the eight part documentary. The documentary’s total length is 41 minutes. Please contact Clayton Dube at the USC U.S.-China Institute (1-213-821-4382 or with questions about the documentary and its themes or screening inquiries. The documentary is also available at the USC U.S.-China Institute’s channel at YouTube.

The Big Picture: Part 1 of Election ’08 and the Challenge of China

The opening segment documents the importance of the U.S.-China relationship and its complexity. China has the fastest growing large economy, has become the top producer of greenhouse gases, and is increasingly prominent in negotiations to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. 

Tension over Trade: Part 2 of Election ’08 and the Challenge of China

Every American consumer knows how prominent Chinese goods have become in American stores. In 2007, the U.S. imported goods worth $256 billion more than it exported. Many of these products wear famous American brand names. In 2007 and again this fall, product safety issues have emerged. This segment addresses these issues and others, including China’s massive (over $500 billion) investment in America’s national debt and working conditions.

Human Rights in China : Part 3 of Election '08 and the Challenge of China

Chinese today enjoy great freedom in their everyday lives, but Americans of all political leanings express concern about China’s human rights record. The Chinese government’s suppression of demonstrations and riots in and near Tibet in March again focused attention on the issue, as did restrictions on demonstrations during the Olympic Games. Like his predecessors, President George W. Bush has met with Chinese political, religious, and labor rights activists and has called on Chinese authorities to do more to secure basic liberties. These criticisms and those of Bush’s predecessors have had limited impact.

Taiwan and China’s Military Buildup: Part 4 of Election ’08 and the Challenge of China

Taiwan is routinely cited by Chinese as one of the issues most likely to produce conflict between the U.S. and China. The U.S. supplies weapons to Taiwan’s military, but the American government has firmly opposed any Taiwan declaration of independence. The U.S. calls on the officials on both sides of the strait to work collaboratively towards a peaceful and enduring resolution of Taiwan’s status. Since the end of U.S.-Taiwan relations, Taiwan has become a thriving democracy. Ma Ying-jeou became president of Taiwan on May 20, 2008 and has pledged to work towards better ties with the mainland.

China's Growing International Clout: Part 5 of the Election ’08 and the Challenge of China

China’s playing an important and growing role at the United Nations, in the World Trade Organization, and in multilateral efforts to better protect the environment and to restrict the proliferation of nuclear weapons. China’s rapid economic development requires ever increasing energy supplies and other resources. To secure these, has led China to sometimes forge ties with regimes the U.S. condemns. At the same time, many note that China is becoming more of a “responsible stakeholder,” promoting international stability and progress.

China and U.S. Campaign Politics: Part 6 of Election ’08 and the Challenge of China

It’s a well-established tradition for candidates to criticize how the current president has dealt with China. These candidates complain that the president has been “too easy on” or “to close to” China. Upon moving into the White House, presidents have found it necessary to forge stronger ties with China in order to achieve other aims. This segment reviews nearly thirty years of candidate statements and presidential policies.

McCain and China: Part 7 of Election ’08 and the Challenge of China

Senator John McCain has noted that America has shared interests with China, but not shared values. He’s long been a free trade advocate. This segment includes McCain speaking on China in Los Angeles and interviews with his principal advisors on China policy.

Obama and China: Part 8 of Election ’08 and the Challenge of China

Senator Obama has been critical of existing Chinese trade and currency practices. This segment includes the candidate speaking on China in Iowa and Pennsylvania and elsewhere. It features interviews with Obama's principal advisors on China policy.

The producers owe special thanks to the following officials, scholars, and organization leaders who appear in Election ’08 and the Challenge of China.

Richard Armitage
Jeffrey Bader
Dan Blumenthal
John Engler
Jeff Fielder
John Frisbie
Kenneth Lieberthal
J. Stapleton Roy
Randall Schriver
Michael Swaine

In addition to original interviews, Election '08 and the Challenge of China features video provided by a number of organizations. The producers are grateful for their support.

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library
The Bill Clinton Presidential Library
The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
McCain/Palin Campaign
Obama/Biden Campaign
Iowa Public Television
National Public Radio/Iowa Public Radio
The American Association of Manufacturing
The Los Angeles World Affairs Council/Channel 36, Los Angeles
University of Michigan
Asia-Pacific Vision

Election ’08 and the Challenge of China

A production of the USC U.S.-China Institute

With assistance from the Pacific Council on International Policy
and the USC Annenberg School of Communication

Mike Chinoy

Camera and Editing:
Craig Stubing

Clayton Dube

Additional Camera:
Keli Moore and Mike Chinoy

Transcription and Logistics:
Linda Truong, Alex Comisar, Catherine Gao, Leslise Gobena, Ying Jia Huang,
Miranda Ko, and Venus Saensradi