Barack Obama's Victory Met With Delight in China

But Some Chinese Worry America's Next President Will Introduce Protectionist Policies That Will Curb Exports and Hurt China's Economy

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Chinese closely watched the U.S. presidential election, as a Barack Obama victory could have a significant impact on U.S.-China trade relations.
Chinese closely watched the U.S. presidential election, as a Barack Obama victory could have a significant impact on U.S.-China trade relations. Credit: Frederic J. Brown

HONG KONG ( -- Barack Obama prevailed in the most closely-watched U.S. presidential election in decades. Will his victory be good news for China--and for America's image among Chinese?

For the most part, yes. The vast majority of Chinese supported the President-elect, the first African-American elected tp America's top office.

Obama's win sends a strong message to the world that "despite what many people believe and feel or have been led to believe over the years, America can be very open, democratic and progressive," said Scott Kronick, Ogilvy PR's president, China, an American and longtime Beijing resident. "Many of the Chinese I have spoken to are impressed and supportive."

"Most people outside the U.S. have viewed the last few years as a case of the U.S. against the rest of the world, and think the U.S. has moved away from being a positive force in world affairs," said Ian Thubron, exec VP, Asia/Pacific at TBWA Worldwide, a U.K. native based in Hong Kong. "The feeling is that America has changed with this election and as a result, will become a safer place for all of us."

His message of change could also help Brand America in China and the rest of Asia, said Mr. Kronick.

Ogilvy PR has spoken with representatives responsible for building Brand America in the past, but "there does not seem to be the same type of seriousness or consideration other countries are giving the promotion of their locations," Mr. Kronick said. Many countries that begin to do promotional activities in China have a clear understanding of the message they intend to send.

"Yet when we have met with officials from the US, we were told, 'This is America, we don't need brand positioning, everyone wants to be in America.' I worry that the deterioration of our image globally impacts people from all walks of life."

For example, many Chinese students no longer choose the U.S. as their top destination to study, opting instead for universities in Europe or Australia.

In terms of consumer behavior, Barack Obama's presidency is unlikely to have a positive or negative impact. Many Chinese consumers see U.S. companies such as McDonald's and Coca-Cola as international, not as distinctly American. Despite a sour view of President George W. Bush and his policies, the American people, American businesses and American brands had never fallen out of favor.

But there is concern about Mr. Obama's victory in China and other Asian countries dependent on exports to western countries. Asian exporters appreciated the current president's support of free trade and worry President-elect Obama will introduce protectionist policies, based on comments he made during the campaign.

Tom Doctoroff, JWT's Shanghai-based area director, Northeast Asia and CEO, China, also an American, believes there is an undercurrent of anxiety regarding his trade policies and whether an anti-Chinese export policy will further harm China's economy.

"We have to remember that this is the first time China's newly-minted middle class, one that only recently came of age, has experienced a major growth slowdown. Their minds are focused on more material concerns -- and they do not think Obama is a free-trader," Mr. Doctoroff said.

Despite some apprehension about the economic ramifications of Mr. Obama's victory, there is a palpable sense of relief around the world that he prevailed.

There was strong support for his candidacy, for example, in a global survey conducted by the BBC and on a global electoral college web site created by The Economist magazine that let readers symbolically vote for one of the two candidates online. With electoral votes assigned by country, Mr. Obama won 9,115 electoral votes to just 203 for John McCain.

"There are so many great things about the U.S. that often get lost in messages that are political in nature and this requires a rethink of approach and engagement," Mr. Kronick said. "Perhaps that is one of the changes the Obama administration will bring about."

Barack Obama received tremendous support overseas.
Barack Obama received tremendous support overseas. Credit: Cai Daizheng

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