eyes on the U.S.

Is Obama Or Romney Better For China? A View From Beijing

Shops selling Obama T-shirts in Nanluoguxiang, Beijing.
Shops selling Obama T-shirts in Nanluoguxiang, Beijing.
Xie Tao

BEIJING - At the final debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, which was focused on foreign policy, the subject of the rise of China was clearly on the agenda.

But when the moderator posed the question: “What do you believe is the greatest future threat to the national security of this country?” Obama cited terrorist networks, while Romney referred to a nuclear Iran.

Their answers set the tone for the rest of the debate – that China is not a threat to America.

However, what Obama said was still unsettling. He said, “With respect to China, China's both an adversary but also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules… And we believe China can be a partner, but we're also sending a very clear signal that America is a Pacific power, that we are going to have a presence there...”

Obama’s statement reinforced exactly what’s been worrying Chinese decision makers and scholars – that the United States is pivoting back to Asia.

On the other hand, Romney’s answer surprised many Chinese. He said, “China has an interest that's very much like ours in one respect, and that is they want a stable world. They don't want war. They don't want to see protectionism… And so we can be a partner with China. We don't have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form. We can work with them. We can collaborate with them if they're willing to be responsible.”

However, Romney reaffirmed his promise to label China a currency manipulator on the first day of his presidency.

Who do we believe?

Romney’s statement is questionable to many Chinese. Compare it to his policy statement towards China and East Asia on his official campaign site.

Romney’s site says: “China must be discouraged from attempting to intimidate or dominate neighboring states. If the present Chinese regime is permitted to establish itself as the preponderant power in the Western Pacific it could close off large parts of the region to cooperative relations with the United States and the West and dim hope that economic opportunity and democratic freedom will continue to flourish across East Asia. Mitt Romney will implement a strategy that makes the path of regional hegemony for China far more costly than the alternative path of becoming a responsible partner in the international system… In the face of China’s accelerated military build-up, the United States and our allies must maintain appropriate military capabilities to discourage any aggressive or coercive behavior by China against its neighbors...”

So, which Romney do we believe - the one in the third debate, or the one from the statement?

If I were to choose between the two candidates, I’d still prefer Romney. The reason is simple: When America was suffering from an extended economic downturn, there was increasing domestic trade protectionism. A very crucial electoral base for the Democratic Party is trade union organizations that strongly approve of trade protectionism. That’s why the Obama administration constantly lodged anti-dumping investigations. The Republican Party has been tough in dealing with foreign affairs, but one of its important strengths is that it supports free trade.

But in fact, whether it’s the Democrats or Republicans, a leadership transition or reappointment, the Sino-US relationship established in 1979 assures us that the candidates’ disturbing comments on China are negligible. Many scholars have said that during the tenure of a president, the relationship is usually rocky at first and then calm, which can be described as “first Hyde, then Jekyll.”

However, America’s return to Asia strikes many as a strategy designed to encircle China. Some believe that if Obama is re-elected and increases America’s military presence in Asia, it may sour Sino-US relations.

What Should China Do?

As a great power, it’s really a shame for China to leave such a bad diplomatic impression, whether it be with neighboring countries, Europe, Africa or the Americas. It’s as if we’ve made huge economic strides but are still losing allies. Even the relationships with a few traditional allies are just barely being maintained. Now it’s time for deep self-reflection.

The diplomacy of a country is mostly influenced by its domestic politics. The political system affects foreign policy decisions. If we use a hard-line foreign policy to divert from domestic crises, it will result in antagonism and failure.

As for the US, we’ve been paying close attention to its return to Asia and regard it as a strategy to contain China. But there’s another way to look at it.

We’re now viewing the US as an opponent, but it never intended to be one. A country of 1.3 billion people with the world’s second largest economy, nuclear weapons and a powerful military needn’t be anxious about overseas threats. America isn’t stupid. It has no desire to wage a war with a country like China.

So there’s really no alternative. For China and America, we can only coexist in peace, making joint efforts for global stability and prosperity.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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