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  • Writer's pictureXiaodong Fang

While President can't drive Congress to take on China, presidential candidates can, by China-bashing

President Trump has taken numbers of unilateral actions to realize his policies on many issues, including China. As a political novice, Trump does possess the experience and expertise in legislation and policymaking. What's worse, both the Democrats and the mainstream Republicans do not support the President on many issues. No matter what Trump would say about China during his re-election campaign, other presidential candidates have at least equal chance, if not better, to influence congressional behaviors on China. My argument is, during the presidential campaign period, congressional behaviors regarding China issues are correlated with the intensity of China-bashing by presidential candidates, regardless of who those candidates are.


To demonstrate my argument, I statistically analyzed the general relationship between China-bashing and the congressional activities throughout the 2012 presidential campaign period, and also qualitatively examine the detail congressional activities to support my argument. Through the statistical and quantitative analyses, I find that congressional activities are generally less in favor of China (in general, anti-China) when there are more campaign activities using China-bashing.


The Figure below shows the monthly amounts of China-bashing in the presidential elections in the New York Times articles and monthly amounts of anti-China congressional activities from March to October 2012.


March to October 2012. Source: The New York Times and The Library of Congress

The growing amounts of anti-China campaign activities were associated with the increasing of anti-China rhetoric (a.k.a China-bashing) in quantity in May and September 2012. By contrast, April and summer (June to August) 2012 had comparatively few anti-China campaign rhetoric in the New York Times articles and correspondingly few anti-China congressional activities. October was an outlier. With the presidential election and the congressional election approaching, there were 15 New York Times articles about anti-China rhetoric by presidential candidates, but no anti-China legislation was introduced, voted or agreed. One probable reason was that the congressional elections were also approaching in October, and members of Congress might focus more on the re-election than on foreign policymaking.


Accordingly, presidential candidates can use China-bashing to influence Congress on China-related issues. And once the legislative initiatives on certain China-related issues could turn into laws, such pressures on China to improve its practices will be more formal, influential and powerful than the President's informal claims.

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