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Cablegate: Over 800 Chinese See Democracy in Action at Election Event

R 120852Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIJING
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 0819
INFO CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS BEIJING 004193

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/PD, EAP/CM, DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KPAO KDEM OIIP PHUM CH
SUBJECT: OVER 800 CHINESE SEE DEMOCRACY IN ACTION AT ELECTION EVENT

1. Summary: Embassy Beijing's U.S. Election Watch Event provided a
variety of educational activities for over 800 Chinese students,
academics, government employees, media representatives and business
leaders. Guests stayed for hours, and emotions ran high as our
Chinese guests contemplated the latest chapter of the U.S.
democratic experience. End summary.

2. The Embassy's Public Affairs Section organized this year's U.S.
Election Watch Event with the goal of not only providing American
citizen and Chinese guests a venue to watch the election returns,
but also educating Chinese guests on election procedures and giving
them an opportunity to participate in American-style democracy.
Several new initiatives this year received an overwhelmingly
positive response from guests and the media.

Student Groups Led by Docents
------------------------------

3. The first new initiative was aimed at students. Groups of 25 to
30 students arrived at the event with their professors and were
greeted by EmbOffs, all volunteers in the Embassy speaker program.
These "docents" engaged students in conversations about the
Electoral College, answered questions about voting, and then led
students to the mock voting area (paras 5-9). Students said this
allowed them to get the most from the event and better understand
U.S. democracy.

4. Embassy docents received a number of great questions from the
students. A Beijing-based professor who is an alumnus of a
USG-funded exchange program saw the students gathered around EmbOff
and asked the officer what she was discussing. EmbOff said she was
explaining America's Electoral College and citizen participation in
elections. The professor said, "I am so glad these young Chinese
are learning about American democracy. They are the ones who can
bring democracy to China in their lifetimes, and they need to know
how to make it happen."

Total Voter Experience
----------------------

5. Instead of the usual simple mock ballot, this year PAS aimed for
a more realistic and educational voting process. The Chinese guests
watched television ads by the Presidential candidates and interest
groups, including ads from California. Then they received a ballot
and a voter guide, which included explanations of local races and
initiatives in California. The purpose was to enable the guests to
experience the complexities of the election as an American voter
might, as well as to highlight American diversity by using original
California materials printed in three languages (English, Chinese
and Spanish). Many guests were surprised to see that American
ballots include more than just the Presidential candidates. The
message: voting is not easy; you must be informed.

6. Guests' ballots were then tallied. Although the primary goal of
the non-scientific poll was not to find out whom the Chinese
supported for U.S. President, there was great interest in the
results -- about 75% of the guests voted for Barack Obama. The
results were reported in the Chinese media and cited on CNN.

7. The mock ballot initiatives included a mass transit initiative
(supported by Chinese guests), a proposal to ban gay marriage (not
supported), and an initiative aimed at improving the situation of
farm animals (not supported).

8. One group of Peking University graduate students took the mock
vote very seriously. Every time EmbOff asked if they were ready to
cast their vote, they responded that they still needed more
information about the candidates. They made sure they had viewed
all the commercials, read the candidates' platforms, etc., before
making a decision. They even searched online to see which candidate
received the largest Chinese-American vote before finally casting
their ballots.

9. While handing out "I Voted" stickers, another EmbOff was struck
by how eager Chinese guests were to capture the moment by taking
pictures with their cameras or cell phones. Many guests asked to
keep a sample ballot.

Other Outreach Activities
-------------------------

10. EducationUSA handed out over 10 boxes of books about studying in
the USA. The Information Resource Center (IRC) provided materials,
developed by the IRC or IIP, in Chinese and English. The IRC also
created an Internet Cafe with pre-set bookmarks to help guests
access more in-depth information. The Internet Cafe was packed for
the duration of the event. American Citizen Services staffed a
voting information table for American citizens. Most guests chose
to take photos with the life-sized cut-out figures of candidates
Obama and McCain, many asking to take the cardboard candidates home
after the party.

Extensive Media Coverage
------------------------

11. The event received extensive media coverage. CCTV-4 aired the
program about the Election Watch Event on the same day on the 9 p.m.
"China News Program," which is watched by millions of people across
the country. Other coverage included: International Herald Leader,
Legal Evening Daily, The Beijing News, Elite Reference, Beijing
Youth Daily, Caijing Magazine, Beijing News, Sichuan News online,
China Daily, AFP, Reuters, AFX, New Yorker online, MSNBC and CNN.

Emotional Chinese Response
--------------------------

12. Unlike in years past, guests came and stayed for hours, bursting
into applause as the results from different states came in. The
young people in attendance were very well informed, and their
enthusiasm for the election was reflected in their preparation for
the event. They had insightful questions and articulated
well-thought-out proposals, including for reforming the Electoral
College system.

13. Our Chinese contacts were highly emotional in discussing the
election. A Tsinghua University professor said that the results
meant that the United States is entering a "new era." He commented
that America is a highly unified country and that every four years,
Americans split into two camps and argue about the issues, but then
after the election they unify once again. He opined that the United
States is the "only country in the world" that does it like this and
that this shows the maturity of the U.S. democratic system.

14. At this election event, many Chinese guests were not focusing on
the question "What does this mean for China in the short term?" but
rather showed genuine interest and excitement about the U.S.
election on its own terms. Other guests, in pull-asides after the
main event, wondered aloud how the better elements of the process
could be reflected in their own political system.

15. A university instructor told one officer that the other Chinese
professors were amazed by how emotional Americans can get about
their elections and really do not understand it. "When we pick a
new President," he said, "no one cares."

16. One Embassy contact, a very patriotic Chinese who lived in
Europe for several years and is often critical or even condescending
toward the United States, sent the following message as the election
results were announced: "You know, I was born in mainland China.
From my childhood, I was subject to education that indoctrinated us
with narrow-minded nationalism and traditional values. But I kept
seeking after a lifestyle of freedom and a politics of democracy. I
had thought that only European socialism could create this kind of
democracy and freedom that transcended race, ethnicity, and cultural
divides. But, behold, it's in America. Suddenly, I see my own
narrow-mindedness and ignorance. Because of my prejudice (I thought
the U.S. had only 200 years of history), I never tried to truly
understand your country. But what has transpired today could only
have happened in America. This is the true culture shock brought to
me by the United States. Yours is a country that has held fast to
its dreams. With such tolerance, nothing is impossible. Shedding
tears for your country and for your beliefs proves that you have
never lost your soul."

17. Another response: "...I feel so moved by this...the era of
change has finally come to America...and, I think, perhaps not just
to America..."

RANDT

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