International students find much to interest them in U.S. presidential election
The debates, the media coverage, seemingly endless campaigning. Americans have endured months of buildup to the U.S. presidential election.
Two students—Chi Chen, a junior studying psychology, and Yutian Yang, a third-year Ph.D. student in chemical engineering—have watched the U.S. process, forming their own perspectives, as they also await their own country’s leadership transition this week.
The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China will be held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing beginning Thursday to confirm its newest leaders in a decade.
For Chen and Yang, as they viewed the U.S. process, they both found the presidential debates held the most interest.
“We have never had such a forum in China, so it is new to me,” says Yang, who is from Shanghai. “I like to hear them stating their policies on certain issues, and by comparing them, people can make their choice.”
Chen agrees that the debates help people get to know the candidates in a direct way, by addressing the most concerning problems and issues. “In this way, people not only get to know their solutions and thoughts, but also get to know them better based on their confidence, or probable personalities,” says Chen, who is from Wuhan. “Another thing I found very interesting about this is the debate can be very intense and exciting to see how they react and counterpoint in a sophisticated way.”
In the aftermath of the debate, the media pick apart each candidate’s performance. “The media judges who wins the debate by who is more aggressive in answering the question, but deep down, are all those answers truth?” Yang says. “The emphasis is on who is better in the debate than whose policy looks more realistic, which in my opinion, is meaningless.”
Yang has noticed the intensity of the campaign has increased as it gets closer to the election—and the results are not certain, unlike in China. “The thing is here you are having a real election, but we don’t really have one,” Yang says. “All media is talking about how the next leader in China will do, like it’s already known, but officially, it should still remain uncertain.”
Xi Jinping, first secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Party, is expected to be confirmed as head of China’s ruling party.
Chen sees three major differences between China and the United States in the way that each chooses its leaders. The first is that the U.S. presidential election involves a multi-party system, while in China, there is only one party.
Second, the U.S. election contains a long process of campaigning and debates. “In contrast, in China, since there is only one party, the chairman will be chosen or appointed with the presidium that is formed in the National People’s Congress. There are no debates or complex procedures toward election because everything is decided within the party,” Chen says.
“Lastly, the involvements of citizens are so different,” Chen says. She recalls a conversation with Elane Granger Carrasco, associate director of the Slutzker Center for International Services, who told Chen she was anxious about the election.
“I said, ‘See, we do not have this process at all in China. I do not mean it is good or bad, but we just do not have it,’” Chen says.
With having the right to vote, each citizen is responsible for the country. “People might be scared, cheered or even just not caring. The election contains the involvement of people and will influence every single one of them,” Chen says. “In China, as Elane says, we ‘do not need to go through the agony,’ and we are not involved at the same time. People might talk about it and have their opinions about it, but there are no real responsibilities or involvements.”
In the United States, the system gives people the right to care about their country and come to their own conclusion, Yang says. “I wouldn’t say there are no drawbacks in this system, but at least, people are engaged in the country, and this actually leads to patriotism.”