What Rising Powers Saw at the Democratic Convention
From July 25-28 in Philadelphia, the Democratic National Committee held its convention to nominate Hillary Clinton as their party’s candidate for president. One week after the Republican Convention, rising powers tuned in to watch how the other major U.S. political party responded and outlined its policy platform. China remained largely skeptical of Clinton’s campaign. Observers in Brazil, India, Japan, and South Korea applauded her nomination, but worried about her recent shift toward free trade protectionism. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, India, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea on the DNC Convention and the prospects of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Our previous Policy Alert covered the Republican Convention.
As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s “pivot to Asia” strategy incensed China as a means to contain the country. Her prioritization on human rights – especially gender equality – and her more hawkish views on the South China Sea have left Chinese leaders uneasy about her candidacy. Tao Xie, professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, suspected “many Chinese have a very unfavorable view of her.” One online poll conducted in March 2016 by Global Times showed a preference for Trump over Clinton with 54 percent in support of the GOP candidate.
Given this view of Clinton, several China media voices and commentators explored her candidacy and the prospects for her campaign in the general election.
- The hacking of thousands of emails from the servers at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) – showing the preferences of ostensibly neutral staffers for Clinton as the nominee – and their leak just before the convention “ruins U.S. democracy myths,” according to Global Times. The paper also said the “scandal is devastating enough to bury Clinton’s presidential dream and political career,” though it expected less than severe actual consequences.
- In a 2013 report, Global Times declared Hillary Clinton the “most hated” American political figure in China dating back to her 1995 speech on women’s rights as human rights at the World Conference on Women in Beijing.
- In contrast, Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University and adviser to the Chinese cabinet, insisted Chinese leaders would still prefer Clinton in the White House to a “volatile” Trump. “The worst situation is instability,” he argued, especially as China’s economy – heavily linked to the United States – continues its slow growth rates.
- Xinhua writer Zhu Lei saw the imprint of the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders — the runner-up in the primary — on the Democratic Party’s policy platform, which was described by party officials as “the most progressive” in history.
- Chen Weilhua, reporter for China Daily, highlighted thousands of Sanders and Green Party supporters who protested at the Democratic Convention against Clinton’s nomination. Likewise, Qiu Zhibo, consultant at the UN and Global Times columnist, questioned whether “disappointed Bernie supporters” will vote for either Clinton or Trump.
Many media outlets in India noted the historical significance of a major U.S. political party nominating a woman, but they also focused on whether the convention unified Democrats for the general election.
- Left leaning The Hindu newspaper praised Clinton’s campaign as representing “a more inclusive, democratic and efficient America.” In addition to celebrating the nomination of a woman at the top of the ticket, the paper predicted her campaign would win as long as “the message of unity” is “true and sustainable.”
- On the other hand, The Pioneer, a BJP leaning news outlet, said the historical nature of Clinton’s victory might be lost on South Asia as they’ve already seen scores of women heads of Government in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India. The Pioneer also criticized Clinton for “her controversial record as Secretary of State, her penchant for secrecy and unaccountability, and being the unofficial establishment candidate.”
- Hindustan Times thought a convention with an “uplifting tone” would benefit Clinton and draw stark contrasts to the GOP event.
- Believing that elections in “powerful nations do matter to the rest of the world” due to globalization, Economic Times endorsed Hillary Clinton because of her support for international economic, trade, and environmental systems India uses to its benefit.
- The Times of India pointed out Clinton’s sole mention of India in her convention speech – part of a line attacking anti-trade Trump for making his branded picture frames in India – and was left wondering who American would tell “You’re fired” in November on election day.
- Varghese K. George, Washington-based journalist for The Hindu, wondered if the DNC email leak would prevent the party from bringing Sanders supporters into the Clinton tent.
Others commentators warned that the election would come down to the wire.
- C. Raja Mohan, columnist for The Indian Express, thought the U.S. election will be a close one. After Senator Bernie Sanders pushed the Clinton campaign to the limit, Mohan remarked that the Democratic nominee will need to find a way to unite the party, address Trump’s broad cross-cutting support, and respond to the Republican’s criticism of her trade policy and national security strategies.
- The Pioneer was disappointed with both parties’ candidates and sensed Clinton and Trump had the “feeling of being one-term candidates” that will win in 2016 based on people’s dislike of the other side, not the love of their own nominee. The close race is “not an election one would want to predict.”
Most Brazilian media outlets focused on the historic nature of Hillary Clinton’s nomination to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. Many featured comparisons between Clinton and Trump, but also noted the fierce dispute between Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for the nomination. Most recognize that while Ms. Clinton does not inspire, she also does not pose a threat to constructive regional relations around the Western hemisphere.
Most of the reporting focused on the domestic electoral dynamics of Ms. Clinton’s nomination, her campaign strategy, and the duel between her and Trump as expressed in the public opinion polls.
- Folha de São Paulo warned that Trump would be bad for the world and Veja noted that Latin Americans were largely opposed to Trump’s candidacy.
- Globo celebrating the historic moment, but it also reported on the protests of her nomination by Bernie Sanders supporters and questioned whether voters would favorably associate her candidacy with her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
- Globo’s Gazetaweb outlet reported on the Latino edge to the Democratic Party’s nominating convention. The story placed emphasis on the Spanish fluency of her selection for Vice President, Senator Tim Kaine, and the number of Latino elected officials who actively support Clinton’s candidacy such as rising Democratic star Joaquín Castro.
- Terra followed up on the DNC email scandal by reporting Hillary Clinton and DNC officials claimed that Russian hackers were behind the leaks. Terra also quoted the Russian president who claimed that Trump “was a brilliant person.”
- Veja conducted a comparison of Clinton and Trump on issues concerning Latin America with the most notable difference found on immigration. The paper concluded that while Clinton promised only minor modifications in her foreign policy toward the hemisphere, Trump’s anti-immigrant pronunciations and disparaging remarks have earned him visceral opposition among a majority of Latin American citizens.
- Folha de São Paulo printed an unprecedented editorial on July 30 questioning the high negative ratings of both Clinton and Trump, mentioning that United States voters were not excited about the “mechanical” candidacy of Clinton. However, the Folha’s editorial board stated Trump represents an international risk based on his lack of preparation and provocative xenophobia.
- Carta Capital explored an entirely different dimension of Clinton’s nomination by focusing on the candidate’s relationship with the traditional press corps. According to Carta Capital, Clinton blames the traditional media on her loss to Barack Obama in 2008, and thus the campaign’s strategy is to minimize any risks to Clinton by relying on media that campaign managers can control, especially social media
Japan’s leaders have been closely following the U.S. election as the island nation is often raised in debates about the future of traditional U.S. security alliances. For example, Donald Trump has said the relationship is too one-sided and costly to maintain indefinitely without major changes. In contrast, Clinton has made the continuance of the U.S. alliance a regular talking point in the foreign policy sections of her stump speech.
While the Democratic convention received less attention in Japan than the Republican edition, a couple of outlets debated what a President Clinton would mean for the U.S.-Japan relationship.
- Yomiuri Shimbun saw a clear contrast in the election between the GOP candidate’s “America First” policy and the Democrat’s “commitment to reinforce alliances” like with Japan. The newspaper noted Secretary Clinton’s belief that the Senkaku Islands “are covered by Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty,” obligating Washington to come to Tokyo’s defense.
- Yomiuri Shimbun also acknowledged her foreign policy team – specifically Kurt Campbell – for having knowledge of Japan’s security needs and urged the Japanese Diet to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement in order to make it easier for Washington to ratify the accord under the next president.
- Japan Times worried about the implications of Russian backed hackers trying to influence the U.S. presidential election and disrupt Clinton’s campaign momentum. The paper warned Democrats to “prepare for more embarrassment” with similar hacking and email leaks in the future.
Another traditional security ally of the United States, South Korea, is waiting to see how the presidential election shakes out as the new president could reshape the next stage of relations between Seoul and Washington. Although Clinton supported the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KOR-US FTA) as Secretary of State, she opposed the deal in her 2008 presidential campaign.
While some commentators have welcomed Clinton’s nomination, many debate whether she has changed her trade policy in ways that might hurt South Korea.
- Describing Clinton’s nomination as a “story of resilience and perseverance,” The Korea Times said she “has the character to lead” the United States. However, the paper couldn’t deny the “uphill battle against Trump’s energetic campaign” that will face Clinton in the coming months, particularly after what it dubbed a “dull” DNC convention.
- Dong-A Ilbo praised the speech by first lady Michelle Obama and Sanders and hoped to “see such moving scenes in Korean politics, too.” The paper thoughts Sanders’ endorsement would be enough to bring his supporters onboard the Clinton campaign.
- In another editorial, however, Dong-A Ilbo observed that “whoever wins, the next U.S. president will bring about a major change in policies on Korea,” whether on North Korea, the KOR-US FTA, or the security alliances. This trade deal uncertainty and Clinton’s new protectionist tendencies were echoed by The Korea Herald and Joong-A Ilbo.
- Joong-A Ilbo called both conventions a “pitiful portrait of U.S. politics” and dreaded the United States being turned into a “narrow-minded and self-centered” country. The paper concluded that South Korean President Park Geun-hye “must have a contingency plan at hand” should the U.S.-Korea security alliance “abruptly end” in the next administration.