David Firestein, Perot fellow and vice president for the Strategic Trust-Building Initiative and Track 2 Diplomacy, appeared on the Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin Service on July 18, 2014 to comment on Americans’ views of China and other current affairs topics.
Firestein served as a panelist on Pro and Con, a weekly news and commentary program that is broadcast on the VOA Mandarin Service satellite television channel to Mandarin-speaking audiences worldwide. During the hour-long program, Firestein commented exclusively in Mandarin on falling favorability towards China in recent American public opinion polls, the U.S. debate over illegal immigration and the recent corruption investigations opened by the Chinese government against prominent China Central Television anchor Rui Chenggang. He appeared alongside Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center; Cheng Xiaonong, a scholar at Princeton University; and Chen Pokong, a political commentator and current affairs analyst.
All links below are in Chinese only, with the exception of the Pew Global Attitudes survey.
U.S. public opinion towards China
According to the Global Attitudes survey released by the Pew Research Center in July, only 35 percent of Americans now view China favorably, down from 51 percent in 2011 (for more on this survey, please see: http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/07/14/chapter-2-chinas-image/.) Firestein noted that the American public’s views toward China have generally fluctuated within a range that does not approach extreme highs or lows, so the current downward trend is unlikely to continue in the long term. He also stressed that China has increasingly become a domestic political issue for Americans and not a foreign policy issue, and that lower U.S. public opinion of China is often tied to difficulties in the U.S. domestic situation, such as high unemployment.
U.S. illegal immigration debate
A recent increase in the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America trying to cross into the U.S. illegally from Mexico has thrown a spotlight on the contentious debate over illegal immigration within the U.S. Firestein commented that Americans are generally not receptive to illegal immigration, but that the involvement of children in the issue may soften those views. He cautioned against cutting off assistance to punish countries from which the children originate as U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has suggested, pointing out that ceasing assistance could create harsher conditions within those countries that would motivate even more people to migrate to the U.S. and exacerbate the illegal immigration problem. Firestein noted that the illegal immigration issue, including illegal child immigrants, has been a long-standing problem, and thus the current episode is unlikely to greatly influence the U.S. illegal immigration debate.
Rui Chenggang investigations:
Rui Chenggang is an anchor on China’s state-run China Central Television known for his outspoken nationalistic views who is now under investigation by the Chinese government for corruption. In Firestein’s view, Rui’s controversial comments and confident, even arrogant on-air persona were likely a means of raising his profile and visibility in the public eye. Firestein noted that while Rui’s views are allowed on the air in China, many dissenting perspectives are not, indicating that China’s media environment remains closed and that the “playing field” is still uneven for different views.
Translation by Strategic Trust-Building Initiative Interns Andrew Cheong and Charissa Lee.