Why, Despite His Insults, the Chinese Love Trump

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Donald Trump masks at Jinhua Partytime Latex Art and Crafts Factory in Jinhua, China, on May 25. Marc A. Thiessen writes that in China Trump is seen as the U.S. presidential candidate most likely to let them have their way in maintaining political suppression at home and in expanding their influence across the Asia-Pacific region. Aly Song/reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

Donald Trump talks incessantly about China on the campaign trail—and not in a good way. The Huffington Post even compiled a YouTube video of Trump saying the word "China." It lasts a full three minutes.

Trump says of China "They're stealing our jobs; they're beating us in everything; they're winning, we're losing." He says, "China is ripping us on trade. They're devaluing their currency and they're killing our companies." And he warns, "We are so tied in with China and Asia that their markets are now taking the U.S. market down."

Trump even blames China for manufacturing the global climate change movement to steal American jobs, declaring in a November tweet, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

He has proposed placing a 45 percent tariff on all Chinese goods entering the United States.

So you would think all this would make Trump extremely unpopular in China, right?

Wrong.

The Associated Press reported last weekend:

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.…

Many Chinese may also be relieved that Trump is focused so relentlessly on China's role in the U.S. economy, rather on the country's authoritarian political system, human rights record or policies toward Tibet and the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Trump's questioning of U.S. foreign military commitments is also sweet music to the ears of Chinese nationalists who want China to dominate in Asia and challenge U.S. dominance in the rest of the world. His opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which excludes China and seeks to offset Chinese influence, also goes down well in Beijing, though he has also criticized China's construction of man-made islands in the South China Sea….

In contrast, many Chinese have qualms about Clinton that date from a speech she gave at a U.N. conference in Beijing in 1995 that focused heavily on human rights, to the displeasure of the hosts….

As a former secretary of state under Barack Obama, Clinton is also closely associated with Washington's "pivot" to Asia that includes an increase in the U.S. military presence in the region. Beijing has been strongly critical of the policy shift, which was largely seen as prompted by China's robust assertions of its South China Sea maritime claims.

In other words, the Chinese see Trump's tough trade talk as bluster. As one Chinese professor at Nanjing University told the AP, Chinese have "grown accustomed to American candidates making strong statements about their country during elections, only to moderate their positions once in office."

But his utter lack of interest in democracy and human rights, and his desire to pull back from U.S. military commitments in Asia, are seen as real.

So despite his China-bashing, Trump is actually the preferred candidate of the Chinese elite—because he is viewed as the candidate most likely to let them have their way, both when it comes to political crackdowns at home and in expanding their hegemony across the Asia-Pacific region.

Marc Thiessen is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.