Brookings blog – China returns his love-hate attitude with a similarly mixed rhetoric. Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei called Donald Trump an “irrational type” back in April in an interview with The Wall Street Journal and said the United States “wouldn’t be entitled to world leadership” if it followed the trade policies that Trump proposed toward China.
Lou is so far the only senior Chinese official to publicly comment on Trump. Although the rest of China’s leadership tries to remain silent on this matter, major Chinese media outlets—usually seen as Beijing’s mouthpiece—have been closely following Trump since the beginning of his campaign. They have described him as a “big mouth,” a “clown,” and someone who is “eccentric and capricious.” Trump is sometimes portrayed as a joke to Western democracy.
Unlike the official Chinese media’s shifting attitude, popular opinion as expressed in social media has been more consistently favorable towards Trump. In a late March poll of 3,330 Global Times readers, 54 percent of respondents said they supported a Trump presidency—well above the 36 percent of Americans who currently do.
On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like micro-blogging website, there are at least 10 Trump fan groups with over a thousand followers—these include “Trump Fan Club”(1,667 followers), “Trump: Light of the World” (3,445 followers), and “Trump Commentary” (2,706 followers). One fan tweeted that Trump displayed a “majestic demeanor” when he took the stage the first day of the Republican National Convention.
The Chinese internet users who support Trump do so for a number of different reasons. Many see him as a successful businessman and respect him for that. His image resonates with China’s obsession with fortune-seeking today, and people believe that his pragmatic way of conducting business, when translated to politics, would play to China’s advantage.
Some believe that the stability and development China enjoys today can be attributed at least in part to the Communist Party’s iron-fisted leadership, and Trump might be a similarly powerful leader. Most enjoy watching him as the “reality show star” of the U.S. presidential campaign. The fact that he is running is the biggest reason they actively follow the campaign.
On the popular question-and-answer site Quora, one user asked: “Do educated mainland Chinese like Donald Trump?” The question generated 21 answers, mostly by mainland Chinese. Many of the answers revealed a different side of Trump’s popularity in China: his proposed ban on Muslims immigrating to the United States.
The social and political unrest in the Xinjiang region, home of China’s Uyghurs, has triggered widespread fear and anger towards Muslim people on Chinese social media. Trump’s harsh rhetoric about Muslims plays well with this audience.
Overall, therefore, it seems that Trump’s mixed messages on China have produced similarly mixed messages from China on Trump. While official channels tend to disparage him, the candidate’s unique background and style seem to resonate with many Chinese internet users. Of course, only American citizens will actually cast ballots in November—but keeping a finger on the pulse of public opinion overseas helps illuminate what U.S. foreign relations might look like under one candidate versus another. Next week, we’ll take a look at what Chinese media and people are saying about Hillary Clinton.