Clinton's potential White House bid sparks negative press in China

Aloof, elitist and losing popularity - these negative descriptions of former United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton have emerged in Chinese state media against the unfavoured American figure in China.

The disparaging remarks followed the launch of Mrs Clinton's new memoir Hard Choices last Tuesday, widely seen to have unofficially kicked off her bid to be the Democratic nominee for the 2016 US presidential election.

A news analysis by the state- run Xinhua news agency three days later took a swipe at Mrs Clinton, saying that although "widely admired, the former first lady can also come off at times as being aloof and elitist".

The fresh wave of negative press includes articles attributing unflattering traits to her and questioning her chances of winning the election.

It reflects Beijing's rising anxieties over a potential US president whom it often sees as an unfair critic of China and an adversary keen to curb its rise.

From as far back as 1995, Mrs Clinton had already ruffled Chinese feathers. As first lady then, she spoke up for women's rights in a now historic speech at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, embarrassing the host country.

"It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights," she said.

Experts also point to her central role in President Barack Obama's pivot to Asia that began in 2011, seen by the Chinese as an attempt to contain China, as another reason why Beijing has not warmed to her.

She was seen as "hawkish" during her time as US state secretary from 2009 to 2013, which coincided with a period when Beijing was becoming increasingly assertive amid China's bitter territorial disputes with some of its US-allied neighbours like Japan and the Philippines, they add.

There are thus concerns that ties may worsen under her watch.

"On many occasions and on major issues such as the South China Sea disputes, control of Internet and human rights, her critical, tough comments have only raised tensions between China and the US," said Renmin University's Sino-US expert Shi Yinhong.

"China's negative impression of her is clear," he added.

Singapore's East Asian Institute analyst Chen Gang said there is concern that should Mrs Clinton become president, US policy towards China will become even more aggressive, causing fraught Sino-US relations to sour further.

"China believes the hard-line policy on territorial disputes taken by its neighbours like Japan and the Philippines is due to the US' backing.

"If Hillary becomes president, they worry this position might be consolidated further," he added.

Mrs Clinton, for instance, left Beijing fuming when she called freedom of navigation in the South China Sea a US "national interest" during an ASEAN Regional Forum in 2010.

She also termed China's human rights record "deplorable" a year later in an interview with The Atlantic magazine.

As a result, China often made known its distaste for her when she was secretary of state, with its state media publishing scathing editorials about her.

"Many people in China dislike Hillary Clinton," a September 2012 editorial in the Communist Party-linked Global Times said bluntly on the eve of her last visit as secretary of state to Beijing.

"She has brought new and extremely profound mutual distrust between the mainstream societies of the two countries," it added.

Fudan University foreign policy analyst Shen Dingli noted that the Chinese leadership does not have the stomach for criticism "as the country is not yet truly strong".

This causes them to perceive criticisms, such as those from Mrs Clinton, as adversarial.

But not all are entirely pessimistic about the future of Sino-US ties with Mrs Clinton as leader.

"Strategic tensions between Beijing and Washington have never been this bad in a long time," Professor Shi said.

"If tensions do not ease within the next two years under President Obama, then at least a new president provides a chance for a new beginning, even if it's Hillary Clinton," he added.

This article was first published on June 18, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.