Why China may cheer a Trump presidency and dread a Clinton one
HONG KONG– China is a favorite punching bag of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, accused of stealing U.S. jobs and threatened with eye-watering trade tariffs.
In response, China’s state-run media has called the tycoon-turned-politician a big-mouthed, racist clown.
But while Trump may inspire ridicule in Beijing, it’s a Hillary Clinton presidency analysts say that China’s leaders may be dreading more.
“It’s counterintuitive but China, at the highest levels, may have an easier time dealing with Trump,” says James Mann, a Washington-based author of several books on China and U.S. foreign policy.
“Policies are not rhetoric. Personalities count. China is extremely good with dealing with leaders that have large egos, who are full of themselves and who can be flattered and courted.”
By contrast, says Mann, China doesn’t like Clinton’s lawyer-ly proclivity for following the rules and her decades of experience with China, and with foreign policy issues more broadly, make her a much more formidable challenge.
“Hillary, she’s a fairly tough personality and knows what she thinks. China finds it hard to deal with lawyers.”
“A lawyer’s instinct is to set up rules. And she does have a tendency to not accept the argument that China is a special case which needs to be treated differently from other countries.”
As President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, she’s been the face of his pivot to Asia — a policy that in China has been perceived as one of containment.
Human rights defender
Her tendency to champion human rights, and her hawkish views on maritime disputes in the South China Sea, have won her few friends in China — even though she is much more pro-free trade than Trump.
“I suspect many Chinese have a very unfavorable view of her,” said Tao Xie, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
“The Global Times once published an editorial, just on the eve of her visit to Beijing (for a meeting), declaring that she is not welcome. That editorial shows at least the prevailing sentiments in some elite circles,” he added.
In a special report marking her departure from the State Department, the same state-run newspaper described her as being regarded as America’s “most hated” politician among Chinese Internet users.
And an online poll conducted by the Global Times in March suggested that 54% of Chinese would vote in favor of the U.S. billionaire.
‘Crazy old woman’
Some of the criticism of Clinton seems rooted in the same sexism that colors the opposition towards her in the United States.
State media has described her as pushy and ungraceful and mocked her hairstyles and wardrobe choices.
Sima Nan, a television pundit sometimes described as China’s Bill O’Reilly, openly calls her a “crazy old woman.”
One often quoted comment from Chinese social media platform Weibo recalls her husband’s public infidelity: “If she can’t manage her husband, how can she manage America?”
That’s not to say that a Trump presidency would be welcomed with open arms in China.
“Chinese leaders might not like her (Clinton), but they know they can work with her,” says Shannon Tiezzi, managing editor at The Diplomat, an online publication focused on the Asia Pacific region.
“Trump, meanwhile, is a complete unknown. Is he serious about wanting to slap Chinese goods with 45% tariffs? Or about using economic coercion to try to shape Chinese behavior in the South China Sea? What about letting South Korea and Japan pursue their own nuclear weapons capabilities?”
“We can’t be sure if a President Trump would actually follow through on those comments, and that has to be deeply worrisome to Beijing.”
There is one Chinese constituency where Clinton has long-standing fans.
Chinese feminists know Clinton from her groundbreaking 1995 speech as First Lady to the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
The speech was censored in China but Feng Yuan, a women’s rights activist, was in the audience and told CNN Clinton inspired her to devote herself full time to advocating for women.
Clinton has also supported a younger generation of Chinese feminists — describing the 2015 detention of five young feminists “inexcusable” on Twitter and calling President Xi Jinping “shameless” for hosting a meeting on women’s rights while cracking down on feminist activists.
Beijing fired back, with state media accusing her of being a “rabble-rouser” intent on China-bashing to win election points.
Li Tingting, one of the five feminists Clinton tweeted in support of, says she doesn’t agree with all of Clinton’s politics but what matters most, she says, is what a Clinton presidency would symbolize for women — even in China.
“I should thank her, I think I like her, not just because she’s defending us but because she’s a feminist doing a lot of things for women’s rights.”
CNN’s Alex Field and Shen Lu in Beijing contributed to this report
By Katie Hunt