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US elections 2016

Sieren's China: Trump triumphs

Astonishingly, Donald Trump won the US election. China favored him as president from the start, but whether they will get what they want is another question, says DW'S Frank Sieren.

It also came as a surprise in China that Donald Trump won the US election. Yet, he was not as controversial in China as might have seemed during the campaign. Many Chinese citizens openly admired his success as a businessman, were impressed by his glamorous lifestyle and fascinated by his big mouth. Indeed, over the course of the campaign, a whole series of businesses popped up which used his name to sell their goods, from luxury toilets to real estate to air fresheners - even though they had nothing to do with his company.

Oddly enough, he was forgiven for his unflattering comments about China. Statements such as "We can't continue to allow China to rape our country" or that China was undertaking the "greatest theft in the history of the world" were not taken seriously. Even less so because Trump made contradictory statements such as: "I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?... I love China. The biggest bank in the world is from China. You know where their United States headquarters is located? In this building, in Trump Tower." And 25 percent of the funds for a 50-story building in New Jersey were raised by rich Chinese investors hoping to receive a green card in exchange for $500,000.

Is Trump more pragmatic than Clinton?

But Trump's voters heard his criticism of China as a rising power and bought his theory that the Middle Kingdom is to blame for the fact that the US is no longer "great." This was one of the reasons why the Beijing political elites withheld their comments, even though deep down they favored Trump and are less shocked than some European politicians now. After all they know that a lot of what is said during election campaigns is forgotten once a candidate is in office and that Trump is less ideological in terms of foreign policy than Hillary Clinton.

Frank Sieren *PROVISORISCH* (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Tirl)

DW columnist Frank Sieren lives in Beijing

The hope from Beijing is that Trump - a businessman who thinks that politics is ugly and brutal - might be more open to pragmatic political compromise. It is a hope that cannot be dismissed. Some diplomats believe that it would have been the complete opposite with Clinton as president. As secretary of state, she expanded the US' role in the world and helped to develop the "Pivot to Asia" policy to limit China's attempts to contain the US' role in Asia. In his first speech as president-elect, Trump struck a more conciliatory tone: "I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America's interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone, with everyone," he said. "All people and all other nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict."

Trump: Military retreat from Asia

During the election campaign, Trump had already signaled that he would be inclined to withdraw troops from Asia, or at least to make countries protected by US troops pay more for their presence. This is bad news for Japan and South Korea in particular. The question remains, however, whether Trump will stay on this course once he is in the White House. If he does, there will be more opportunity for China to entrench itself in Asia. What is already certain is that Trump will not be very interested in drawing Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte back into the US fold.

As a businessman who has never been a politician, Trump will have more understanding for the economic constraints of the US' closest partners in Asia than Clinton would have had. For instance, Australia has little room for maneuver. Some 30 percent of its trade volume is with China. In this regard, it seems as if there will be less tension. However, in terms of trade, China is going to have to get used to a tough period. However, Trump is also constrained by the fact that China acts as the US' bank and alongside Japan has bought most government bonds he will now have to deliver to his electorate.

Mixed feelings generally in China

And this clearly means greater trade barriers for China because Trump is not going to become a sudden supporter of free trade just because he is president. Beijing will find it difficult to sway him. Even if he will have understanding for China's position, he will not want his voters to feel he is taking anything away from them. Beijing is going to have to tighten the belt for a while. That's why there are mixed feelings in Beijing today. The geostrategic situation might become less tense but trade will become more difficult. When Trump talks of America taking its fate back into its own hands, he is talking about Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania - not Syria, Russia or the South China Sea.

DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for 20 years.

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