If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, his victory will be celebrated not only in Mar-a-Lago, but also in Beijing.
The Chinese Communist Party’s media conduits are swooning over the vulgar, politically-incorrect frontrunner, telegraphing that if Trump were to rise to a position of real power, it would be a boon for the country’s regional ambitions.
Chinese-language press and state media—especially foreign policy columnists—have written extensively and favorably about Trump’s geopolitical views. Many pro-Beijing writers have looked past his threats of a trade war with China, viewing his willingness to undercut America’s existing alliances in Asia as an incredible strategic opportunity.
It’s the latest twist for a politician who loves bashing the East Asian country on the campaign trail, enunciating it with his trademark flair: “Chai-Nah.” And it’s an emerging pattern of praise from America’s rivals, to include the mutual admiration society between the billionaire and Russian President Vladimir Putin. And in fact, Trump has had a lot of good things to say about dictators in the past.
One of the best examples of the apparent pro-Trump sentiment from the Chinese government is from the nationalistic Global Times, an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. It published an article in late March, covering Trump’s rise, titled: “Trump is not a lunatic.” The article goes on with a quote that he is a “shrewd businessman” with his finger on the political pulse of his countrymen, and that the country’s mood is to slip away from “imperial hegemony.”
To be sure, some voices in the Chinese government have criticized Trump’s suggestion of a high tariff on Chinese imports. But even quasi-independent Chinese outlets are writing about the possibilities the Republican frontrunner could present to China, and, echoing his American supporters, argue that he is only putting on an act and would actually be quite flexible as president.
“Why isn’t China worried about Mr. Trump’s threat of high tariffs on their exports to the US? Because he’s also said he’s a deal-maker. They think they can make a deal to preserve what they have in the US-China relationship while a Trump administration retreats from world economic leadership,” Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Beast.
Caixin, a media organization in China, has done just that: dismissing the threat of a tariff, arguing that Trump’s positions and principles are constantly changing, and that the billionaire is a realist, much like Henry Kissinger.
Between Trump and Hillary Clinton, the article continues, Trump may be a better choice because he is a negotiator rather than a hardened ideologue—and certainly he would be better than the “hostile” attitude that President George W. Bush had toward China.
“The Chinese media has made statements that are more friendly to Trump than one might expect, and more friendly to Trump than Hillary Clinton if it came up between the two,” said Jennifer Harris, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who is also an informal unpaid adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign. There is, Harris said, a “comfort” with Trump among the Chinese media, which are heavily influenced by the government’s position.
Trump has indicated an openness toward undercutting existing American global alliances, arguing in public comments that he would be willing to withdraw American forces from Japan and South Korea unless those allies increase their payments to cover costs.
“We cannot afford to be losing vast amounts of billions of dollars on all of this,” Trump told The New York Times.
This has drawn alarm from Tokyo and Seoul, but the Chinese press has covered these developments with great detail and enthusiasm, savoring the panic that their Asian rivals are enduring as Trump suggests a renegotiation with American allies the region.
“China’s great project is to try to undermine America’s alliances in Asia. And if you have someone in the White House that says this is open to negotiation… that’s really good news in Beijing,” Harris said.
Xinhua, the country’s official press agency, wrote about the “Rebirth of American Isolationism” earlier this year, arguing that Trump is an isolationist who is far more focused on domestic issues. If Trump’s worldview prevails, the article said, Obama’s relatively dovish foreign policy would look far more aggressive than it currently does.
“Trump gaining ground, panic in Japan,” another Xinhua article declared, with all its implied relish.
So as Trump prepares to duke it out in the New York primaries today, he’ll have cheerleaders not only in Staten Island, but also in the corridors of power that house China’s elite, in cities like Beijing and Shanghai.