Beijing: China features prominently in the rhetoric of presumed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who accuses the country of stealing American jobs and cheating at global trade. In China itself, though, he’s only now emerging as a public figure, despite notoriety elsewhere for his voluble utterances, high-profile businesses and reality TV show.
And although Chinese officials and state media have denounced Trump’s threats of economic retaliation, many Chinese observers see a silver lining in his focus on economic issues to the near-total exclusion of human rights and political freedoms.
That appears to make him an attractive alternative to his likely rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, who is regarded as far more critical of China’s communist system.
Trump “could in fact be the best president for China,” Hong Kong Phoenix Television political commentator Wu Jun said during a recent on-air discussion. “That’s because the Republican Party is more practical and Trump is a businessman who puts his commercial interests above everything else,” Wu said.
Clinton, on the other hand, “might be the least friendly president toward China.” Despite his frequent evocations of China, it’s not clear how familiar Trump actually is with the country.
While he’s claimed to have made “billions of dollars dealing with China,” he has no known investments in the nation, and it isn’t clear what influential figures he knows in the Chinese political and business realms. Chinese are, however, customers for Trump’s hotel, golf course and real estate ventures, while Trump-branded clothing and accessories have been made in China.
Trump mentions the country so often that a popular YouTube compilation video exists in which he says the word China more than 200 times in just over 3 minutes. His various statements on China range from the blunt (“We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country”) to the anodyne (“I like China very much”). Still, Trump was largely unknown in China until his campaign for the Republican nomination began gathering momentum last year.
Though China’s government rarely comments on American political campaigns, Trump’s advocacy of a 45 per cent tariff on imports that would hit China hard has been lambasted by Finance Minister Lou Jiwei, who called Trump “one of those irrational types” and said enacting such a tariff would cost the US its global leadership. “Don’t even think of being the big boss anymore,” Lou said in April.
Trump’s comments might’ve sparked a stronger response if Chinese hadn’t already grown accustomed to American candidates making strong comments about their country during elections, only to moderate their positions once in office, said Nanjing University foreign relations expert Zhu Feng.
Many Chinese may also be relieved that Trump is focused so relentlessly on China’s role in the US economy, rather on the country’s authoritarian political system, human rights record or policies toward Tibet and the northwestern region of Xinjiang.