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Shanghai Caucus: NY Sun On Bloomberg’s China Visit

December 12th, 2007

There’s been quite a lot of commentary on Bloomberg’s visit to China, and an editorial in the NY Sun caught my attention this morning:

Mr. Bloomberg didn’t turn in a perfect performance — we’d have preferred he included Taiwan and democracy activists in Hong Kong on his itinerary. But it was a strong performance. With polls showing voter dissatisfaction with the existing candidates, all the more reason for Mr. Bloomberg to get into the presidential race. We’ve not endorsed him, but we were the first and have been the most persistent in urging him to run, and his performance in China only increases the logic of his entering the lists.

To be frank, I am really not sure about the appropriateness of Bloomberg’s visit. He’s just a presidential hopeful. Who is he to speak as if he represents the United States, and let’s not kid ourselves. His efforts were to give the US public (and possibly the Chinese) a chance to see what he looks like in action.

I wonder whether Bloomberg’s visit was coordinated with those who form and manage US foreign policy. While it is interesting for the US public to get a feel for how a presidential hopeful might handle China - is he tough enough? - it is a far more important from a foreign policy pespective to ensure that the United States deals with China on a single front. If a politician in China were to visit the United States, you had better believe that whatever came out of that representative’s mouth was the word of central government officials.

China does not commonly allow low-level officials to speak on its behalf - in fact, it doesn’t like officials in Taiwan or Tibet speaking at all - and while it was not suggested that Bloomberg was representing the view of the Bush administration in his talks, what concerns me is that the Chinese might see this visit as proof that democracy is kind of messy. If Bloomberg’s speech was approved by the Bush administration, that is certainly another matter, but then should we not expect all presidential hopefuls to get the chance to swing through China? Maybe a China visit will become a necessary part of every election and we can look forward to “the Shanghai caucus”

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