US Elections 2016: Who is Asia's preferred candidate? - China

Many prefer Trump, opinion polls show

But experts say Clinton win won't hurt Beijing as much as feared

China is arguably one of the few countries in Asia where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is publicly its preferred US president, based on opinion surveys among the Chinese and social media postings by netizens.

But along with the rising odds of a win by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, there is also a growing recognition among Chinese foreign policy experts and policymakers that her presidency might not hurt the country as much as feared.

A survey of 3,300 respondents by the Global Times tabloid in March showed 54 per cent preferred Mr Trump, while the rest disliked him.

An online poll by global market research agency Ipsos of 1,000 respondents early last month showed 32 per cent believe Mr Trump would win, compared with 28 per cent for Mrs Clinton.

A top reason for the Chinese preference of a Trump presidency is the belief that the isolationist foreign policy he espouses means it will be less likely to thwart Beijing's superpower ambitions, especially in the region. "This will be very beneficial to China," said Professor Shi Yinhong of Renmin University.

The Chinese also prefer Mr Trump because they believe he will comment less on China's human rights or political ideology, compared with Mrs Clinton, who is seen as a vocal critic.

 

FAMILIAR FACE OR QUESTION MARK?

Both Hillary and Beijing know each other well. As for Trump, everyone, including Beijing, will have to adjust and learn to deal with him.

MR WANG CHONG, independent think-tank Charhar Institute researcher, on how Beijing may prefer to deal with Mrs Clinton.


CHINA EXPECTS HAWKISH CLINTON

The first two years will not be easy. And this will mark the downward spiral (of bilateral ties) for the next three to five years.

PROFESSOR SHI YINHONG from Renmin University, on a Clinton presidency.

And while Mr Trump has repeatedly accused China of taking jobs from Americans and vowed to take protectionistic measures, some in China believe that being a businessman, he is likely to focus on pragmatic areas of cooperation that could bring most benefits to the US.

"In the long run, a Trump presidency could help promote bilateral trade and economic ties," said independent think-tank Charhar Institute researcher Wang Chong.

Mr Trump also enjoys considerable support on Chinese social media, with many liking his straight- talking style. In contrast, Mrs Clinton has often been depicted in a negative way in the Chinese media, though this has largely disappeared from official media rhetoric recently in expectation of a Clinton win.

The consensus in China is that a Clinton presidency points to frosty days ahead for Sino-US ties, given perceptions of the former secretary of state as a tough-talking hawk who could clip China's wings.

Beijing expects her to be hawkish on many issues, especially security. "The first two years will not be easy. And this will mark the downward spiral (of bilateral ties) for the next three to five years," said Prof Shi on a Clinton presidency.

Viewed as the architect of US President Barack Obama's Asia-Pacific pivot strategy, Mrs Clinton is widely expected or feared in China to adopt a more hardline stance than the outgoing president.

Analysts say Beijing will watch her positions on the South China Sea and Taiwan issues most closely.

Still, some analysts believe Beijing prefers to deal with Mrs Clinton - someone they know, rather than one who is a question mark, Mr Trump.

Mrs Clinton, who visited China as the First Lady of the US in 1995, is a familiar face who is more predictable, and could thus in a way ensure the stability of Sino-US ties.

"Both Hillary and Beijing know each other well. As for Trump, everyone, including Beijing, will have to adjust and learn to deal with him," said Mr Wang.

The Chinese government has refrained from commenting on the US election, but some saw a clue of its preference when top climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua criticised Mr Trump over his plans to pull out from a global climate change pact.

"I believe a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends," he said at a briefing on Tuesday.

Regardless, Beijing feels it is the real winner, based on media reports citing how appraisal of Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton as poor candidates indirectly shows up failings of Western democracy and validates China's political system.

"The officials are very pleased with the way the election campaign is developing," said Prof Shi.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2016, with the headline 'Many prefer Trump, opinion polls show'. Print Edition | Subscribe