Edited by Stay Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
For our election coverage, Northwest Asian Weekly asked professors Dr. David Bachman and Dr. Laurie J. Sears at the University of Washington to share some of their personal thoughts and opinions on the presidential candidates.
Bachman is associate director and professor of the UW Jackson School of International Studies. Specializing in Chinese domestic and foreign politics and U.S.-China relations, Bachman holds a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Philosophy in political science from Stanford University.
Sears is a professor of history and director of the Southeast Asia Program at the UW. She is a scholar of Indonesia and Southeast Asia and has taught Indonesian, Vietnamese and Southeast Asian history at the UW since 1989. She has lived and traveled extensively in Asia.
How do you think the candidates differ in foreign policy in China and Southeast Asia? Who will be the greater ally to Asia?
Bachman: On foreign policy towards China, I don’t think that there’s a huge amount of difference between the two frankly. They both look as if they will be consistent with the previous American presidential engagement with Bush and Clinton.
Though there’s some worry with McCain. There’s a question of whether he will be more confrontational. He expressed a desire for cooperation but is highly critical of trade deals.
Sears: I believe that Sen. Obama’s experiences in Southeast Asia are a great asset. He spent four years as a boy in school in Jakarta, Indonesia, and he has an Indonesian/American half sister who is married to a Chinese Canadian.
He also has family in Africa and he has traveled in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. I believe that Sen. Obama’s family connections in Asia and Africa make him see the world in a unique way that is appropriate and advantageous for the 21st century.
Bachman: They both have issues and statements in their past that would make China a little concerned about what their policies would be. Due to Iraq and our own domestic policy, China’s not going to be a front burner issue.
The U.S. might have to realize that the Chinese financial flow is very important to our economy. They have to realize they shouldn’t rock the boat. I don’t see them moving to fundamentally change China policy.
Sears: Sen. Obama is not bound by older Cold War visions of the world, and he was not involved in the U.S. wars with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. He fluently uses the latest technologies that are global technologies. He is open to sitting down with leaders of all countries for discussions.
Sen. Obama opposed the Iraq War — a war that has destabilized the Middle East, ruined the U.S. reputation abroad, made the world less safe, and involved the U.S. in policies that have gone against the Geneva Conventions in the use of torture and treatment of prisoners.
For these reasons, I personally believe that Sen. Obama would be the best ally for the countries of Southeast Asia and for the improvement of the U.S.’s standing in the world. Last summer I was in Burma, Thailand and Malaysia, and in 2003 I was in Indonesia. The positive feelings toward Americans had sadly changed from previous visits and ranged from friendly criticism to unfriendly criticism.
How do you think each candidate could positively (or negatively) affect Southeast Asia?
Sears: I am concerned about Sen. McCain’s support for the Iraq War and his belief that U.S. forces should stay in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
His knowledge of the countries of the Middle East sometimes has seemed confused, and his priorities unsound. Sen. McCain seems to believe that he knows what political system is best for all the countries of the world, and I fear that he could involve the U.S. in more wars around the globe.
His positions on various issues have flip-flopped in the course of his presidential campaign, suggesting an opportunistic approach to politics. Although I believe that Sen. McCain has served his country admirably through his military service, he has stated that he disagreed with restraints imposed by his superior military commanders during the Vietnam American War and he himself believed that the war was winnable.
I do not agree with these opinions. I do not believe he is ready for the complicated politics of the 21st century.
How do you think Asians’ perception of America will change if we elect a Black president?
Bachman: I think that the Chinese find it quite intriguing, particularly the more educated Chinese. The fact that you could nominate someone like Obama, who doesn’t seem to be like other presidential candidates, this speaks to more potential for American Democracy and Democracy in general more than the propaganda line made by the Chinese.
Sears: Southeast Asia itself is incredibly diverse. I personally believe that many Southeast Asians are very enthusiastic about Sen. Obama and that he has support in the region.
Bachman: It may stimulate more demand to political change in China. I think it speaks well for the U.S. that he’s a candidate. I think it’d speak well for U.S. if he were elected internationally. He is the favored candidate internationally. The U.S. relationship with the world would be more normalized than before.
Sears: I believe when Asians realize that Sen. Obama has Asian family members, that his sister is a Buddhist, that his family in Africa is Muslim, and that he and his American family are Christians, they will see Sen. Obama as tolerant, open-minded and good for Southeast Asia.
Bachman: My guess is that more people in China and the Chinese government would prefer Obama to McCain. They would want someone who is not as likely to use force like the Bush administration. ♦
These comments in this interview are the professors’ personal opinions and do not reflect the opinion of the University of Washington, the Jackson School of International Studies or the Southeast Asia Center.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.