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Chatham House: US Election Note: China Policy after 2012

Author: Xenia Dormandy, Senior Fellow, U.S. Program, Chatham House
May 2012

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This Chatham House paper lays out the likely China policy of either a second-term Barack Obama administration or an incoming Mitt Romney administration, and the international implications of these two alternatives.

China has long been considered a 'black box' for the United States. Relations between the two countries have been characterized by strategic mistrust and uncertainty. From the American side, China's rise is both an opportunity and a threat. Policy-making in Washington is complicated by the lack of clarity over the balance of power between China's civilian government and its military, and their respective interests and objectives. This has led to the prevailing US policy of engaging and hedging. From the Chinese perspective there is also uncertainty regarding America's intent and whether it is really trying to hedge or contain.

While we are focused on the November elections in the US, Chinese politics are also in a state of flux, with an anticipated retirement of seven of the nine members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party at the end of this year. Recent political turbulence around the purging of Politburo member and Chongqing party boss, Bo Xilai, in early April has increased sensitivity to additional internal or external political pressure.

In the context of the current US-Chinese relationship, this paper lays out the likely China policy of either a second-term Barack Obama administration or an incoming Mitt Romney administration, and the international implications of these two alternatives.

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