Myth Of China: Views on Trump
Mar 01, 2017 04:15PM ● Published by Makayla Gay
By Xiaobo Hu
Director, Clemson University Center for China Studies
Sales of an old novel, 1984 increased almost 10,000 percent within the first five days of President Trump taking office in January. The novel of a “modern hell was basically a reproduction of British misery in the postwar rationing years, with the malice of Stalin’s police-state style added on,” according to Adam Gopnik, where the government promoted “alternative facts.” Indeed, when we read the novel or watched the film 1984 based on the novel, we were reminded of brute authoritarianism where people lived in a mix of in-your-face lies and constant fears in the former Soviet Union, Mao’s China or other authoritarian regimes. This time, the re-view of 1984 is not about China. In fact, there is a live debate about the new American politics in China and there are different views between China’s left wing and right wing.
China’s new left is not Maoist. Although sympathetic with Mao’s concern of social fairness and equality, China’s left is critical of Mao’s policies and supports China’s economic reforms. However, they resist too quickly economic openness that they believe would leave blue-collar workers behind and enlarge too big a chasm between Chinese rich and poor.
China’s right believes in the market economy and has fully embraced Western liberalism. They push for China’s greater economic openness and full participation in globalization.
During the 2016 American presidential campaign, China’s left favored Trump over Clinton, for they were aware of Clinton’s hardline stand on China’s economic reform and environmental issues. They disagreed with Clinton’s view on China’s human rights record and take a historical and progressive view over China’s human right improvement. They also regarded Clinton’s view on Chinese women biased and out of touch, and believe the status of women in China not any worse than in the United States.
They noticed Trump’s absence of policies for human rights or women’s issues, and they welcomed Trump’s intention (and later the act) to withdraw the U.S. from TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, which they believe would give China a fair chance to further develop its domestic economy and promote better economic and trade relations with the United States.
China’s left does not think Trump understands how China, the biggest market for U.S. products, can help revitalize American economy or how to negotiate with Chinese for that purpose, and his criticisms of China are misplaced.
China’s right agrees with China’s left on this last point. Along the line of neoclassic liberalism, China’s right has difficulties to understand Trump’s policy orientation or his national agenda, particularly his centuries-old mercantilist, beggar-thy-neighbor views. Their belief in Western liberalism and free market does not square well with Trump’s protectionism. However, they trusted that Trump has been a successful businessman and must have known how to strike deals that would be mutually beneficial for all parties. While both candidates Clinton and Trump were critical of China, China’s right saw hopes in Trump as he was perceived pragmatic, ideology-free and able to work together with others.
Much has happened since Trump was elected president. President-elect Trump broke a decades-long tradition and had a direct phone call with Taiwan’s leader, and his nominee for the Secretary of State wanted to go against international law and block China from the islands in South China Sea. Plus, there is still a threat to put 45 percent punitive tariffs on Chinese commodities. All this may push China’s left and right to unite, as economic nationalism arouses the same protectionism in its counterparts. In the end, small businesses and consumers in the U.S. will suffer, as increased tariffs will eventually be transferred to them.