In November next year, Xi Jinping could find himself as the first Chinese president to be younger than his American counterpart since the 1950s.
Hillary Clinton – who has just announced that she will run in next year’s presidential race – will be 69 in 2016. She is also six years older than Xi.
After retiring as Secretary of State to the Obama administration two years ago, Clinton’s bid for office has put her back in the headlines in China. As we reported last year when she published her political memoir Hard Choices, a curtain-raiser for her presidential campaign, Clinton professed to adopt an uncompromising stance in her dealings with Beijing (see WiC242). In the memoir she writes about China’s censorship, her rows with the Chinese government over the treatment of its citizens, and the dissident Chen Guangcheng’s escape to the US embassy.
The book is banned in China.
And just days before last week’s announcement, Hillary was talking tough again. Reacting to a New York Times story about five female activists arrested for protesting on a range of women’s issues, she wrote on her Twitter account: “The detention of women’s activists in China must end. This is inexcusable.”
The tweet didn’t go down well in Beijing. A spokesperson from the foreign ministry swiftly rebuffed it and called for “public figures in other countries” to respect China’s judicial sovereignty.
After Clinton stepped down in 2013 the Global Times concluded that she had been “the most hated US political figure” in the eyes of Chinese netizens. Some of that dislike is the result of her policies during her tenure as Secretary of State, said Foreign Policy magazine, including America’s “Asia pivot” in the region, which has added to tensions in the South China Sea over competing claims between China and its neighbours.
News of Clinton’s presidential campaign soon had China’s social media buzzing with comments. Many were rather unkind, with plenty opting for uncharitable rebukes, like calling her a “witch” or a “fierce granny”.
“This old witch couldn’t even properly manage her husband’s crotch! How is she supposed to manage an entire country?” was another much-forwarded retort.
Others poked fun at the potential repeat of the Clinton-Bush era. “Talk about aging political leaders protecting entrenched interests. Another Clinton versus another Bush?” one netizen joshed, referring to the prospect that Jeb Bush might also stand for office.
A contributor to Sina made a similar point: “I heard little sister Hillary announces running for the US president in 2016 and his opponent is little brother [Jeb] Bush. I want to know why a democratic election always selects from two families. Are all the other Americans idiots?”
The official media was less provocative, although one commentator even wrote on the state broadcaster CCTV’s weibo that if Clinton were elected president, “World War III would not be far away”.
“Experience teaches us that US policy towards China is always exaggerated during the run up to presidential elections, but it finally ends up with moderate attitudes and measures,” the Global Times noted rather more calmly.
The China Daily said it was too early to worry about the election of another President Clinton. But it also wondered if she would triumph in her bid for office. “Will they [the Americans] accept a 69 year-old female president in the White House? The idea of a male middle-aged president is still deeply rooted in many US citizens’ minds; is it easy to change?” the newspaper asked.
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