Obama's challenges in midterm elections

By Huang Shuo (
Updated: 2010-11-02 16:13
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This year's mid-term elections in the US are on center stage today, Nov 2, 2010. The main goals are to elect members of the Senate and the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill, in addition to state governors, local mayors and members of city councils across the country.

The election may become a hurdle for President Obama, who started his presidency in January 2009. The difficulties confronting Obama can be summed up in three spheres. First, the tough environment of the domestic economy in the US has not fundamentally been turned around since the international financial crisis of 2008, induced by the mortgage crunch in the US banking system, mainly reflected in high job losses, which pose a major threat to his support from voters.

Second, Obama runs the risk of becoming a lame-duck president. According to a poll conducted on Oct 25, 2010, 14 percent more independent voters are backing Republicans over Democrats. American media agree that the Republican Party would dominate the House of Representatives, while the Democratic Party was highly likely to control the Senate. As a result, a split power in Congress is expected to result in troubles for Obama and his team. Despite the criticism from opposing parties and groups, President Obama will probably not be impacted by the disturbances in global issues, especially climate change, renminbi exchange rate and regional security.

Third, his foreign relations policies are mingled in hopes and fears. Reaching new agreement with Russia on nuclear disarmament without great concession in negotiations takes up most of the diplomatic achievements contributing to world peace and stability. However, the military retreatment from unsecured Iraq and the hard stance toward Iran's nuclear program left future troubles in the Middle East region. The American grand strategic shift from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region in politics, economy and military opens the door to a new era of "US going back to Asia" strategy and America's ambition of totally handling global affairs in order to restrain emerging countries' development and rise. China is the built-in target on that agenda. Even some experts on Sino-US relations think that the Obama administration's policies toward China are tougher than the Bush administration's at certain times.

In 2010, American policymakers have made use of an array of international incidents such as the Sino-Japanese disputes in the Diaoyu Islands, joint military drills with South Korea in the Yellow Sea near China and an official meeting with the Dalai Lama. Those provocations have touched a raw nerve in China in defending the national interests of territories, resources and internal affairs. American government should recognize the necessity of changing its policy orientation toward China.

The "potential competitor" considered by conservative groups can offer a way for the US. China came up with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in 1955 to deal with bilateral and multilateral relations and ultimately achieve a win-win goal. For more than 50 years, the principles have proved to be one of the most effective and acceptable diplomatic solutions in international ties, whose essence is reciprocal respect and mutual noninterference. Why not accept it?In fact, national interests play an increasingly bigger role in policymaking in the country. The development of China will not do harm to the interests of other countries, including America and other developed nations. Peaceful coexistence is the eternal road to establishing mutual trust and developing inter-nation ties.

In short, three challenges facing Obama in the 2010 elections cannot be resolved in the short term not only for domestic pressure but for international disputes. The game is about to play out continuously along with conflicts of interests. President Obama should analyze and distinguish different settlements to specific issues, whether domestically or internationally. There is no shortcut for him. The American people are standing at a critical turning point and looking to him for an answer that keeps up with the times and is acceptable to the opposing side in the US and to the rest of the world.

The author is a Beijing-based freelancer in China. He can be reached at