Sieren′s China: Trump finds unlikely support in China | US presidential elections 2016: What do I need to know? | DW | 31.07.2016
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US elections 2016

Sieren's China: Trump finds unlikely support in China

Despite Donald Trump's anti-China posturing, many in China admire the billionaire's flair. The Republican presidential candidate's tirades have an appeal that domestic politicians can't muster, writes DW's Frank Sieren.

The closer the US presidential election gets, the more the rest of the world has come to terms with the candidate for the Republican Party: Donald Trump.

His campaign speeches range from insolent to downright abusive. Mexicans have heard of his plans to build a wall to keep them out - and then bill them for its construction. The Chinese have heard his accusations of currency manipulation and that their country is "raping" the United States and stealing jobs from Americans. In Mexico, he is hated. But, in China, feelings are more mixed, and a surprising amount of people even seem to like the guy.

At the end of March, a poll by China's "Global Times," an English-language daily, found that 54 percent of respondents favored Trump among the candidates for US president. That was 15 points higher than his numbers in the United States at the time.

Frank Sieren

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

His supposed straightforwardness and simple phrasing seem to have made him as popular or more popular in China as he is with certain demographics in the United States. Many Chinese seem fascinated by him because he is so different from their own government officials, who are not transparent with their thoughts and act behind closed doors. Trump makes his opinions loud and clear - and the next day he often says the exact opposite.

The readers of the "Global Times" are educated urbanites who have apparently forgiven Trump for accusing their country of "one of the greatest thefts in the history of the world." The former reality show host has become a brand, and China loves branding. He is seen as a success with entertainment value - something that cannot be said of most Chinese politicians. He is an icon of pop culture.

On social media, he is portrayed as a successful businessman with a pretty wife by his side, and he himself has used Twitter to back up the idea that he is a "winner." Some Chinese businesspeople are even trying to make money with Trump's name, selling luxury toilets, air conditioners and even real estate that has nothing to do with the billionaire.

Trump is aware of the mixed feelings about him in Asia and has attempted to play to both sides. On the one hand, China is an evil economic power. On the other, it's rich Chinese people who are injecting money into US coffers. China's biggest bank rents one of Trump's buildings in Manhattan. In Southeast Asia, his Trump Hotel Collection is particularly popular with Chinese.

Sometimes, he forgets who supports his business and then he has to dig himself out of a hole. However, as is often the case with charismatic leaders and would-be leaders, his words and actions do not seem to make much of a difference, whatever it is that he says or does - and that is what is so dangerous about them. Fans of such personas tend to fixate on their fascination at the expense of reality. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a very visible example of the consequences of such phenomena.

Chinese investors seem to underestimate the risks of a Trump presidency. In the past six months, they have invested $29 billion (26 billion euros) in the US economy, considerably more than the short-lived annual record of $18 billion that they had invested in the whole of 2014.

Even the Chinese government has decreased its anti-Trump warnings - back in April, Finance Minister Lou Jiwei had called him "an irrational type" - and is now preparing for what could happen next should he win.

Perhaps the leaders in Beijing think that it would be easier to deal with the businessman Trump than with Hillary Clinton, a foreign policy ideologue and former secretary of state. Perhaps they are thinking that Trump might be more willing to compromise should the outcome of negotiations benefit the United States. Perhaps they are thinking wishfully.