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Cablegate: East China Audiences Fascinated and Surprised by the U.S.

VZCZCXRO2427
RR RUEHCN RUEHGH
DE RUEHGH #0501/01 3220653
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 170653Z NOV 08
FM AMCONSUL SHANGHAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7338
INFO RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 1511
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI 1333
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2283
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 7939
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC 0231
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 1540
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 1532
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 1702

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SHANGHAI 000501

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/PD, EAP/CM, INR/B
POSTS FOR PAS AND POL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO OIIP PREL CH
SUBJECT: EAST CHINA AUDIENCES FASCINATED AND SURPRISED BY THE U.S.
ELECTION

REF: Beijing 4193

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED

1. Summary: U.S. election programming over the last 14 months in
the Shanghai district proved, in the words of one Chinese
student, "a great showcase for democracy." However, media
coverage, while extensive, was sometimes limited by Chinese
Government restrictions. End Summary.

2. While the U.S. Presidential Candidates were busy
crisscrossing the nation in search of votes, consulate staff in
Shanghai were similarly busy traversing the consular district
explaining the U.S. election process to Chinese. The consulate
started elections programming early in 2007 and kept up the pace
throughout the fall of 2008 employing the full range of outreach
tools, including speaker programs, digital videoconferences,
consulate speakers, the consulate website, Public Affairs
Section (PAS) programs, Information Resource Center (IRC)
materials and even our biweekly film series to spread a deeper
understanding of how the American people, through a democratic
process, chooses the nation's leaders. In addition to frequent
university presentations by USG speakers such as the Consul
General, Deputy Principal Officer, and the PAO, audiences in
East China were able to interact with a variety of private
citizens courtesy of the U.S. Speaker and Digital Video
Conference Programs, ranging from the political cartoonist Daryl
Cagle to former Democratic National Committee Chair Dan Fowler
to Grover Norquist of Citizens for Tax Reform. PAS estimates
that more than 3,000 Chinese attended one or another of these
programs, not/not including the large, live Election Watch party
the consulate held on Election Day. Election materials provided
by our IRC's distribution at every program and a special
"Elections" section of the website that was updated daily
ensured that additional materials were also made available to
our audiences. Nanjing - site of a Virtual Presence Post -
received special attention as an important second-tier city with
numerous visits and a special, live Nanjing Election Watch
program jointly organized by PAS Shanghai, the Johns Hopkins
Center at Nanjing University, and the consulate's new Nanjing
Virtual Principal Officer. Consulate officers also made
election-focused speaking presentations in Hangzhou and Hefei,
the two other provincial capitals in the Shanghai consular
district.

3. Comment. Chinese reaction to these programs--and to the
election itself--ranged from repetitions of government
propaganda to the sophisticated and the surprising and often
offered insights into how the Chinese public perceives American
society. Several Chinese attendees stated that "Americans will
vote for Obama because they prefer young people to old people."
One student in Nanjing noted that, "America talks about equality
but Hillary's failure shows that women are still not equal in
America." Sometimes their questions revealed more about China
than the U.S. as another student in Nanjing did when she asked
University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis
whether Americans " ... vote as they want to or as their
political parties tell them to?" In a country where home-town
ties are surpassed only by familial ties, it was fascinating to
one Shanghai-area reporter who was in Chicago covering the
elections to discover that Obama's neighbors would carefully
consider Obama's policies and not just vote for him because they
lived on the same street. Our Election Watch event in Shanghai -
attended by over 300 people - proved to have made a
particularly strong impression on a number of Chinese observers.
A student there commented that, it was "a great showcase for
democracy." Seconds after CNN International called the election
for Sen. Obama, one veteran America watcher at a Chinese
university commented to the PAO that "his victory proves the
greatness of your country and its ability to change itself and
move forward even in the face of great challenges," while
another said that the result was "a milestone for race
relations." One excited naturalized AmCit commented proudly upon
arrival at the event that he had "exercised [his] inalienable
right to vote!"

SHANGHAI 00000501 002 OF 002

4. [SBU] Though there was consistent, factual coverage of the
U.S. elections in the Chinese media, the central government
still exercised limits on elections reporting in East China. For
instance, only a select group of sanctioned, national-level
media such as Xinhua and China Central TV were permitted to
leave China to report from the U.S. on the elections. Several
savvy Shanghai media organizations found ways around these
prohibitions, however, such as one major Shanghai-based media
group that set up interviews unrelated to the elections with
city officials in Chicago in late October to obtain official
permission to travel, and then simply "added on" election
coverage to their trip once on U.S. soil. Government reaction
to the consulate's large Election Day event at the Hilton
likewise showed the government's desire to limit coverage on
this topic. While a half dozen Chinese media organizations came
to cover the event, several were later told by municipal
propaganda officials that this was a "foreign affairs" issue and
that they had not obtained the proper permission to cover it.
Shanghai TV was able to broadcast some of its coverage from the
U.S. but had to cut back substantially from its original
coverage plans after word came down from Beijing that media
should not "sensationalize" the U.S. Presidential election.

5. Comment. Audiences at our election programs were
overwhelmingly enthusiastic and interested in the U.S.
presidential election. Issues related to race, gender and age
made up a significant percentage of attendees' comments and
questions, with many noting with surprise and approval that an
African-American could be elected as the next U.S. president.
Informal polling at a running series of PAS Shanghai programs -
our "candy caucus" using blue "DEM" M&M candies and red "GOP"
candies was a consistent crowd favorite and sure-fire way to
encourage everyone to vote - also indicated that our Chinese
audiences favored Obama to McCain, increasing from a slight lead
at the time of the party conventions to typically by a ratio of
five to one or more as Election Day neared. While some cited
Obama's policies, many seemed drawn to what they cited as his
youth, eloquence and intelligence. Interestingly, one young,
rising America expert at Fudan University noted approvingly that
"Obama seemed like the older man" after watching him fend off
Sen. McCain's attacks during one of the PAS-organized programs
to watch the debates live at the consulate. Contrary to
expectations, he observed that McCain's aggressiveness was
making him appear to Chinese audiences as the rasher, "younger"
candidate. In the end, it was the process itself that made
perhaps the strongest impression. As one teacher noted somewhat
wistfully at the conclusion of U.S. Speaker program, it is
"unfortunate that we cannot elect a [Communist] Party
secretary-general in China."
CAMP

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