Whether we are referring to the 2016 election, when Hillary Clinton ended up being chosen as the Democratic Nominee rather than Bernie Sanders or to the 2020 one, where pretty much a repeat occurred, with the mainstream moderate candidate Joe Biden being on the receiving end of advantages brought about not necessarily by his own performance/charisma but rather by not being Bernie Sanders (sic), this much is certain: Bernie Sanders made it crystal-clear that you can indeed lose yet remain a major political force.
What do Democratic Party moderates have against Bernie Sanders?
For the most part, concerns are related to the fact that Sanders represents a potential disruptive factor, with many comparing him to Donald Trump in that respect (not as far as policy responses are concerned, which tend to be on the other end of the spectrum compared to Trump but rather from the perspective of status quo disruption).
Also, there is the ideological component, with Bernie Sanders declaring himself a socialist without blinking. Now while the Democratic Party is most definitely more left-leaning than the Republican Party, let’s just say that for the US political landscape, it is quite uncommon for someone as left-leaning as Bernie Sanders to be in the spotlight. To put it differently, there is a world of difference between calling yourself a progressive and calling yourself a socialist, with many experts explaining that the latter approach tends to make quite a few voters uneasy, in light of the fact that socialism and the proverbial American Dream don’t exactly go hand in hand. In a nutshell, it’s basically the difference between being “more left-leaning than Republicans” and calling yourself a socialist.
All in all, Bernie Sanders most definitely created a movement around him and as such, undoubtedly ended up being a political actor everyone is paying attention to… both domestically and internationally.
The latter dimension brings us to… of course, China.
Is Bernie Sanders on China’s radar?
If there is anything Beijing made clear over the years, it’s that being thorough when it comes to meaningfully “getting” (understanding) its adversaries is a top priority. As such, a disruptive political force such as Bernie Sanders didn’t exactly go by unnoticed.
Is this because Sanders is a socialist?
Simply put… no.
While China is indeed a socialist nation theoretically speaking, it hardly has the appetite for igniting revolutions abroad let’s say Mao Zedong would have hoped for and as such, the aggressive desire to promote Marxist-Leninist ideology is just not there… on the contrary, in light of how many free market elements China has embraced, both Marx an Lenin would be rolling their eyes (or rolling in their graves, depending on which metaphor you prefer) when analyzing today’s China.
Simply put, because any polarizing element is considered desirable by Beijing to such a degree that as we have made clear in an article dedicated to precisely this topic (one you can access by clicking HERE), China actually prefers Donald Trump as President despite the (in)famous US – China trade issues due to the fact that he acts as a polarizing force in a manner rarely seen in US politics. So polarizing, in fact, that whether we are referring to the “Democrats vs. Republicans” dimension or to the relationships between the United States and its allies… “controversy” is the operative word as far as the Donald Trump administration is concerned.
The same way, a hypothetical Bernie Sanders administration would have most definitely contributed to the volatility dimension, something that cannot be said about politicians such as former President Barack Obama or Joe Biden. To put it differently, China would love nothing more than for a US President to emerge who generates even more chaos around him than Donald Trump and in the absence of this development (a player that trumps Trump in terms of controversy, pun intended), Donald Trump will most definitely do.
Words cannot stress enough how important it is to understand that when it comes to today’s China, pragmatism as opposed to ideological purity prevails. Perhaps if the Gang of Four would have been successful in the aftermath of Mao Zedong’s death and Deng Xiaoping’s ascension to power would have subsequently become impossible, today’s geopolitical landscape would have been different… at least when it comes to the ideological evangelism dimension.
Since that is clearly not the case (with arguably the exact opposite trend being embraced by Deng Xiaoping and future leaders, even if the official narrative is still strongly ideology-laden), “Realpolitik” or better stated “Realgeopolitik” is the operative term when describing China’s interests abroad. In a nutshell, chaos involving the geopolitical landscape of its economic adversaries is seen as an opportunity China can exploit to further its geopolitical goals, one at a time. As such, it should come as no surprise that “wild card” candidates who surround themselves with controversy are more than desirable in Beijing.
Bernie Sanders clearly fits the description.
At the end of the day, even in the absence of a nomination and ultimate “Trump vs. Sanders” Grand Finale, Bernie Sanders has disrupted the US political scene to enough of a degree for Beijing to be satisfied, as illustrated by an ever-growing divide between those who want radical reform within the Democratic Party and a more strongly left-leaning agenda (the so-called Bernie Bros, for example, who are even willing to boycott Joe Biden in the 2020 elections to get their message across) and those who believe the status quo should be preserved so as to avoid an outcome such as the one Donald Trump’s nomination ended up having when it comes to the Republican Party.
This topic represents a textbook example of why it is important to apply a game theory-oriented analytical framework which revolves around seeing things from China’s perspective so as to understand its short and mid-term as well as especially longer-term goals. Here at ChinaFund.com, we do just that and are at your disposal should you and/or your organization require assistance with respect to doing the same.