Recently there has been a spate of articles in the Chinese media and blogs deliberating on which US presidential candidate China and its people find the most interesting, who is the best for China, etc. Much of the discussion focuses on the questions: Does China like Donald Trump? And do the Chinese like Trump? There is a difference in these two questions. The former refers to the Chinese government; the latter means the Chinese people.
The Chinese government, as a general principle, does not comment on foreign elections and, in particular, does not express which candidate it prefers to win. Doing so is considered interfering in the domestic politics of another country, which China condemned during the period of imperialism and colonialism, and still does.
Therefore, government officials in China have rarely expressed their opinion about Donald Trump, notwithstanding his often-expressed provocative statements, including his condemning China for its lopsided trade balance with the US (selling a lot more than it buys), which translates into lost jobs in America. Trump has even spoken of China’s “economic rape” of the US and its “Great Wall of protectionism.”
In contrast, the Chinese media and bloggers, especially the youth in China, have had a lot to say about “Donald.” They appreciate and often laud his different and interesting style. They like the fact he speaks openly and candidly on political and other issues, which they say Chinese officials don’t and wish they did.
Two months ago, Sina Weibo, China’s largest microblogging site, via the hashtag #SuperTuesday attracted 13.5 million clicks and 5,600 comments. Donald Trump was the focus of attention. Subsequently, in a survey conducted by huanqiu.com, Chinese respondents were asked if they liked Trump. More than 4,200, or 59.7 percent, said yes. Since huanqui.com is connected to the state-owned and nationalistic newspaper Global Times, this was a surprise but perhaps is also telling.1
Some respondents reported that they like Trump’s focus on economic issues, realizing that China’s commercial relations with the US had to be fixed, and noted that he is not so concerned about human rights and political freedoms in China and does not talk about military issues much. Also Trump opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that Chinese view as part of America’s pivot to Asia. Both are seen as pointedly anti-China and as reflecting US’ envy of China’s successes.
However, some of the compliments registered by China’s young people were actually subtle criticisms or constitute warnings about Trump. Recently some have said they like him because, if elected, he would probably mess up America, especially US foreign policy, and this would be an advantage to China. China would become the predominant power in the world as the US falls into second place — a result of Trump’s missteps and the likelihood he would alienate some important countries, including America’s allies.
What is almost totally absent, however, from the heady discussions of Donald Trump are his political party, how China has viewed America’s two political parties (and does now), and how that might relate to the issue at hand, namely Donald Trump’s popularity. This backdrop is significant.
In this connection, Westerners think that — and they are right — the Chinese are students of history, with long memories, and people who connect the present with the past. The Chinese also learn from their elders, and they network. Naturally affected are the views the Chinese hold of Donald Trump and his adversary Hillary Clinton.
To the point, Chinese leaders, beginning with Mao and including some high officials now, not to mention historians and Chinese scholars, have stated they like the Republican Party more than the Democratic Party. They have good reason.
The two American presidents that treated China the most dreadfully were Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt — both Democrats.
Chinese leaders, beginning with Mao and including some high officials now, not to mention historians and Chinese scholars, have stated they like the Republican Party more than the Democratic Party.
At Versailles at the end of World War I, President Wilson, who had earlier promised China the return of Shandong Province, a German leasehold, acquiesced to Japan’s demand for the territory — even though China had been an ally during the conflict. The prize involved was land that was the home of Confucius — sacred to most Chinese. China’s ambassador to France at the time compared it to the way Christians view Jerusalem.
China considered Wilson’s action a betrayal of the first order and refused to become a signatory to the Treaty of Versailles.
President Wilson made other concessions at China’s expense. Plus, he was also known for his racism (which has recently gotten attention in the US). Chinese came to despise Wilson and “his” League of Nations. Their ill feelings and deep ire toward Wilson marked the beginning of anti-Western Chinese nationalism.
President Roosevelt was a friend and an adamant supporter of Chiang Kai-shek and purveyed him arms and other assistance during World War II, which Mao and his party charged were used to kill them and huge numbers of Chinese citizens, as Chiang was more interested in maintaining power than he was fighting the Japanese.
Also, during the Chinese Civil War that followed from 1945 to 1949, President Roosevelt continued to supply Chiang with weapons and more, prolonging a war Chiang inevitably lost while killing countless more Chinese.
But worst of all Roosevelt sold out and betrayed China at Yalta at the end of World War II — granting the Soviet Union territory China claimed plus the use of Chinese ports. To most Chinese, this was pure chicanery; to some it was a new form of imperialism.
The two acts of perfidy, by Wilson and Roosevelt, in Chinese eyes, also resulted in the preservation of the Western system of international politics that contributed to further protracted conflicts and wars.
The Democrat presidents Truman, Kennedy and Johnson launched wars in Asia that cost China lives and treasure. They treated China as a pariah and an enemy. Chinese leaders do not see them in a positive light.
In contrast, Chinese leaders applaud President Richard Nixon, a Republican, for engineering the historic breakthrough in US-China relations. He and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are still revered for their accomplishments. Often mentioned is their espousal of realism, which Chinese leaders say with regularity they understand and support.
President Ronald Reagan vastly improved Sino-American relations. President George H.W. Bush was one of China’s closest friends. In contrast China characterized President Jimmy Carter as “weak-kneed” in dealing with the Soviet Union.
Under President Barack Obama, US-China relations have not been worse since before Nixon. Currently, ties are strained over what China regards as Washington deliberately pursuing anti-China policies in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and regarding cyber-warfare.
Regarding the South China Sea dispute, a noted US diplomat recently stated: “Our arguments relate to freedom of navigation. Yet this freedom has never been threatened or challenged.” And “its most self-interested champion is China.”2
Michael Hayden, the only person to lead both the US Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency has asserted: “We are better at stealing other people’s secrets than anyone else in the world.”3 If China were the foremost culprit engaging in cyber warfare against the US, wouldn’t Washington respond by doing the same, or worse, to China?
President Obama has obstructed China’s “One belt, One Road” plan that will “connect the world” (the biggest such project in history that will cost USD 1 trillion and help the economies of a host of developing nations). Obama has also tried to convince a number of nations not to join China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, has sought to block the Chinese Yuan from becoming a global currency, and has given advice to the government of Thailand to turn down a Chinese proposal to build a canal across its southern peninsula.4
Similarly, Chinese leaders resent Hillary Clinton’s once carrying the torch in criticizing China on human rights (though she has abandoned that in recent years). They also criticize the US pivot to Asia, a Clinton creation, which China views as an effort (though a futile one) to contain China, and they chide her support of Japan in its conflict with China over islands in the East China Sea.
Chinese leaders don’t trust her.
Government officials in Beijing are skeptical of Donald Trump. He is an unknown. But they feel they can negotiate with him and need to resolve some economic disputes that have festered too long. They like him and, more importantly, they like his party better than Hillary and her party.
The aforementioned history and Beijing’s view of current US-China relations have no doubt seeped down to affect the Chinese population.
1. Yu, X. (2016, June 1). Donald Trump: Mixed feelings. News China, pp. 28-30.
2. Freeman, C. W. (2016, April 11). The end of the American empire. War on the Rocks. Retrieved from http://warontherocks.com/2016/04/the-end-of-the-american-empire/. This was adapted from Freeman’s speech before the East Bay Citizens for Peace on April 2, 2016.
3. Rose, C. (2016, February 25). Charlie Rose talks to Michael Hayden. Bloomberg. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-25/michael-hayden-on-syria-apple-fbi-dispute-and-edward-snowden
4. Copper, J. F. (2016, June 23). China’s challenge to America: Its role as a world builder. IPP Review. Retrieved from http://ippreview.com/index.php/Home/Blog/single/id/175.html