After initial fascination with Trump in China his popularity is quickly declining. Here why the love affair has began in the first place and why it is over.
Leading to US election last November, US president elect Donald Trump has been a fairly popular figure in China. According to the most recent poll before the election, 39 per cent of Chinese preferred to see him as the next US President – a surprisingly large percentage given his relentless China bashing on campaign trail.
Before the Republican nomination, Trump was relatively unknown figure to an average Chinese. Some would recognize him as a reality television star or a successful businessman, but he wasn’t someone people would know much about.
The reasons of fascination with Trump in China
Despite Trump blaming China for stealing American jobs, currency manipulation and even inventing “global warming hoax”, he has enjoyed mostly favorable media coverage. There are several reasons for such positive sentiment towards his candidacy as opposed to Clinton’s.
First, he was perceived as someone who would rather discuss trade and economy than human rights and political freedoms which are sensitive topics for China. Hillary Clinton on the other hand, was viewed as someone who would be more inclined to focus on those issues.
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.”
Another positive prospect of Trump’s presidency as far as China is concerned was his repeated criticizing the Trans Pacific Partnership — a multi-nation trade deal proposed by US administration which specifically excludes China. Trump’s intention to cancel the treaty would undoubtedly strengthen China’s influence and standing in the regional economy.
Clinton on the other hand, was seen as one of the architects of Obama’s “pivot to Asia” which, as many Chinese believe, aimed at containing China’s regional and global ambitions.
Finally, Donald Trump is still seen by many as someone who is going to weaken America rather than strengthen it – another welcome prospect for China.
Why the popularity of Trump in China is fading quickly
In the last few weeks however, there are signs of rapidly changing attitudes towards Trump in China. His hostile rhetoric has only intensified and now many believe that the trade war between the two countries could become a very likely prospect.
China is currently American number one trading partner – the value of US-China trade currently stands at $663 billion, the all-time high. Obviously, trade war in the form of import tariffs as Trump was suggesting is going to hurt both economies but would carry significantly more impact for China rather than US.
Another frequently repeated claim by Trump in the series of recent tweets is accusing China of currency manipulation. Although Chinese currency was, rather unexpectedly, allowed to weaken by the central government throughput 2016, Trump and his advisors continue to claim that it is still overvalued.
Moreover, Trump’s unprecedented phone call with Taiwanese president who congratulated him on his presidency win infuriated China. From that point on, the local media fascination with “the Donald” started to wane quickly.
A couple of weeks later, Trump has appointed the economist Peter Navarro, a fierce critic of China, as the head of a new national trade body. He will lead the White House National Trade Council, and serve as director of trade and industrial policy. Peter Navarro is the author of books with the titles like “The Coming China Wars” and “Death by China” which already says quite a bit.
Recent Chinese press is gradually becoming more hostile towards Trump. Although Trump’s authored books and books about him are still country’s top bestsellers, the official media is now much less inclined to offer him praises.
On the contrary, stories of his numerous failures and gaffes seem to be much popular these days both in Chinese official channels as well as in social media. Fan pages set for Trump in China on Weibo now seem completely dead. Chat groups such as “Donald Trump Super Fans Club” and “God Emperor Trump” have been silent since the end of November.
Is the love affair with Trump in China over? The answer appears to be yes. Now, many Chinese have begun to realize that Trump’s presidency could in fact be a nightmare scenario for China. His recent tendency to follow on threats worries both businesses and officials and the possibility of his actions damaging Chinese economy are becoming all too real.
On top of it, unlike his predecessor, Trump seems to be favoring better relations with Russia on the account of China. His administration is now seen as more likely to pivot to Putin rather than Xi Jingping.
One thing is certain – 2017 is going to be full of surprises.