US elections: Donald Trump's thinking on the US' Asia-Pacific pivot trumps China's concerns over his presidency

An investor looking at the results of the 2016 US presidential election at a securities company in Beijing on Nov 9, 2016.
An investor looking at the results of the 2016 US presidential election at a securities company in Beijing on Nov 9, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

For China, the biggest question or factor in dealing with a Republican President Donald Trump in the White House is what he will do with the Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy of outgoing Democratic President Barack Obama.

There is a strong belief in China that Mr Trump, based on his professed desire to cut back the US' role as world policeman and to dismantle its alliance system with countries like Japan, would scale back or even discontinue the strategy that is widely seen to be aimed at curbing China's rise and influence.

Such a move by the Republican candidate could also sound the death knell for the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation free trade pact that excludes China and is feared to hurt its trade relations in the region.

The Chinese government, sticking to its policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries, has refrained from commenting on or revealing its preference for the two candidates during the bruising US campaign.

But in recent weeks, there has been a perceptible acceptance of Mrs Clinton - with Chinese media cutting back on Trump-trumpeting stories - due to growing concerns over the impact of a Trump presidency on China.

His protectionism policies, which could hurt global trade, and his potential mishandling of the US economy may in turn disrupt China's economy, which is already undergoing a difficult period of balancing growth and reforms.

Further economic downswings may hurt jobs and the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) political authority and President Xi Jinping's hand entering a five-yearly leadership succession at next year's 19th Party Congress.

Mr Trump's isolationism policy may also see a US cutback from international obligations and increase the pressure on China to fill the vacuum, before it is ready or prepared to do so.

China is also worried that Mr Trump might act on his pledge to allow the US' Asian allies South Korea and Japan to build their own nuclear arsenals in dealing with North Korea, as part of his move to cut back the US' role as global cop. Such a scenario could trigger a nuclear arms race and heighten regional tensions that might hurt China's growth.

Asian stocks tumbled on Wednesday (Nov 09) on news of Mr Trump's stunning defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton, with the Shanghai Composite Index retreating from a 10-month high and falling declining 0.6 per cent.

How Washington manages relations with Moscow - given Mr Trump's public admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin - may also produce a negative knock-on impact on China's relations with Russia, which have deepened under Mr Xi's rule since late 2012.

Confronted with the destabilising effect of an unpredictable Trump presidency and the negative impact of his potential policies, Chinese policymakers are believed to prefer Mrs Clinton as a familiar face and known quantity, having dealt with her extensively when she was the top US diplomat.

But it is clear who most of the Chinese public prefer.

An online survey on Wednesday (Nov 9) as of 3pm by the Global Times tabloid showed 84 per cent of respondents picking Mr Trump over Mrs Clinton (9 per cent) as being the most beneficial to Sino-US relations in the next four years. There are no details on the total number of respondents taking part in the poll.

The presidential race was the hottest topic among netizens on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging portal, with 1.9 billion views of posts with the "US election" hashtag and some 615,000 leaving comments as of 3pm.

Many were cheering for Mr Trump and blaming Mrs Clinton for the Asia-Pacific pivot strategy when early results pointed to his win even as the rest of the world moaned.

"Clinton came up with the rebalance strategy and has adopted a hardline approach against China's rise. If she wins, it will be bad for China," wrote a user.

Others hailed the victory by Mr Trump, despite being widely derided as an ill-suited leader of the world's superpower, as a reflection of the failings of the Western-style democracy compared to the Chinese political system dominated by the CCP.

"Both are not of good quality," wrote user dongsirdhd.

The Chinese are also believed to prefer Mr Trump because they expect him to comment less on China's human rights record or political ideology and less likely to sully China's international image, compared to Mrs Clinton, a vocal critic.

But some Chinese netizens appeared more pessimistic over a President Trump.

"A mad man is going to change the world," wrote a Weibo user named hk5066.