Pence-Harris debate becomes most relevant because of older president choices

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Source: Global Times

Photo taken in Arlington, Virginia, the US, on Wednesday shows C-SPAN live stream of U.S. Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris (left) and US Vice President Mike Pence (right) attending their sole debate as part of the 2020 presidential race in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Xinhua

Editor’s Note:

US Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris took the stage in their first and only debate for the 2020 race on Wednesday night local time. Why is the vice presidential debate so important this year? To what extent might it influence the results of the election in November? Global Times reporters discussed these questions with two Chinese experts.

Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University

There are three main reasons why this year’s vice presidential debates are different. First, both presidential candidates are quite old. Trump is 74 and Biden is 77. Accidents can happen during the presidency, no matter who is elected. Thus, the winner of this year’s vice presidency is likely to become the possible president in the future.

Second, both Harris and Pence are classic representatives of their respective parties. Biden himself is a centrist. Harris is relatively left in the Democratic Party. Trump only cares about power. Pence is a social conservative.

The difference in party ideology and the judgment of the two vice presidential candidates indicates that the ultimate winner will have a greater impact on future political and social life in the US.

Third, Pence believes he is a representative of the white elite. Harris, as an African-American and Asian-American with a white husband, embodies the clear values of the Democratic Party – multi-racial inclusiveness – America’s melting pot ethos. The debate offered many indicators of the direction in which the US’ future values might be shaped.

Overall, the vice presidential debate was much better than the first presidential debate. It was more clear-cut. Most of the substantive issues were discussed unlike the first-round debate between Trump and Biden. But during the debate, Pence frequently tried to gloss over the Trump administration’s performance. His attempt to protect Trump may not convince US voters.

It is worth noting that in Harris’ eyes, the US’ rival is Russia. For the Trump administration, China is the top enemy. Harris attacked Trump for his failure of the trade war. It can be said that Harris takes matters on their merits. Hence, her China policy is less extreme than that of the current administration.

Ni Feng, deputy director of the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

US President Trump testing positive for COVID-19 was the main reason why the vice presidential debate was so special this time. The outcome of the debate and voters’ reactions may provide a relatively accurate picture of how the race will play out in the wake of Trump’s confirmed illness. In addition, this debate officially showcased Harris as Biden’s running partner. It was also an important chance to display Harris’ ability to deal with special situations.

The debate placed a special emphasis on US foreign policy, reflecting differing priorities of the two parties. The Republican Party is more focused on its own strength, while the Democratic Party stresses multilateralism, the international order and international systems of governance and policymaking.

When the issue of China arose, both candidates skirted around the core of the questions. For the Republicans, their main China policy is taking advantage of US’ own power with direct attacks. Then Democratic Party, however, emphasizes a united global front, inviting allies to wage a war on China based on key issues.

In my view, Harris’ remarks illustrate that the Democrats advocate cooperation with China in necessary areas such as climate change and non-traditional security threats.

This is unlike Trump, who defines China as a “competitor.” The Democratic Party, by contrast, believes that it can tackle threats from China with internal adjustments.

Trump returned to the White House from hospital on Monday, delivered a video speech on Wednesday, then said the second presidential debate on October 15 would be host as planned. That means the latter part of the campaign will continue to be dominated by Trump – even though the vice presidential debate has attracted more attention than usual.

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