With Obama's re-election, any notion that complexity of the relationship between the world's two largest economies could somehow change overnight has been quickly dispelled. Chinese state media issued its own view of the American election on Wednesday, saying Obama's re-election offered an opportunity to improve ties after a first term that many senior Chinese officials viewed as saying things one way then in many ways acting differently.
Regardless of the sentiment, China watchers say Obama's re-election, while not greeted with elation in Beijing, still provides some element of predictability going forward. There was perhaps greater concern if Mitt Romney had won, given how the Republican presidential candidate had turned China into the ultimate foreign policy bogeyman in the presidential campaign. Chinese officials made clear that any attempt to label their country a currency manipulator, as Romney pledged he would do his first day in office, would complicate the bilateral relationship even further. "There is certainly an exhale with regard to continuity, in that this is the devil that they know," Christopher Johnson, a former longtime China analyst at the CIA told CNN, regarding Chinese reaction to the election. "I would say they are sanguine, but not necessarily energetic or optimistic about the result."
Cheng Li, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, added that as Obama has "by and large" welcomed the rise of China on the global stage, the relationship between the two countries has been able to withstand periodic episodes of tension. Vice President Xi Jinping, who is widely expected to become the head of the ruling Communist party at the end of the current party congress, also is expected to become president of China in March of next year. He met President Obama during a visit to the United States last year, and toured the country with Vice President Joe Biden, with whom he is said to have a good relationship.
Personal chemistry aside, the issues and challenges facing the administration in its engagement with China are long and daunting. They include a gargantuan trade deficit, Chinese cyberespionage and theft of U.S. intellectual property, not to mention ever-increasing Chinese military expenditures. But the relationship has become increasingly interdependent in today's globalized economy, and neither country is really in a position to let the relationship drift too far. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell recently referred to the bilateral relationship as the "most consequential" of the next decade.