fb-pixel Skip to main content

Many in China hope Trump will be reelected: He’s ‘easy to read’

BEIJING — President Trump has called out China for unfair trading practices, labeled the country a ‘‘threat to the world,’’ and described leader Xi Jinping as an enemy.

Yet he recently congratulated the Communist Party on 70 years in power — which it marked with military display aimed at the United States — and said his relationship with Xi is ‘‘very amazing,’’ despite their ‘‘little spat’’ over trade.

Though the US-China relationship has been rocky for 18 months, many in China’s halls of power hope the American leader will win a second term next year. For although he may seem unpredictable, Chinese officials are betting that Trump’s transactional approach to politics might be preferable to a more principles-driven president, whether Democrat or Republican.

Advertisement



‘‘Trump is a businessman. We can just pay him money and the problems will be solved,’’ said a politically connected person in Beijing, speaking on the condition of anonymity. ‘‘As long as we have money, we can buy him. That’s the reason why we prefer him to Democrats.’’

Trump’s unfiltered tweets help China in negotiations because he is ‘‘easy to read,’’ said Long Yongtu, a former vice minister of foreign trade and China’s point man during its accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, at a conference in Shenzhen this month. ‘‘We want Trump to be reelected; we would be glad to see that happen.’’

Another influential voice in Beijing, Tsinghua University international relations professor Yan Xuetong, wrote recently that, thanks to Trump, China was facing ‘‘the best strategic opportunity’’ since the Cold War.

‘‘Trump has undermined the US-led alliance system, which has improved China’s international environment,’’ Yan said in Southern Review.

Governments around the world, from allies such as Australia and South Korea to adversaries like Iran and North Korea, have had to adjust to Trump’s idiosyncratic style.

Advertisement



But the Chinese were among the most shocked by the US leader’s approach. When Trump took office, Communist Party officials thought that he was only interested in a quick, tweetable victory, analysts have said. But the party underestimated Trump’s resolve to both rebalance the trading relationship and make Beijing a public enemy among US voters. Chinese leaders also acknowledge underestimating the extent to which China’s behavior has become a bipartisan concern in Washington, according to people who have met with senior officials.

Almost two years into the trade war and three years into his administration, Chinese officials have learned the art of Trump’s dealmaking.

‘‘Trump isn’t ideologically opposed to China. He doesn’t go on about human rights and Xinjiang and the South China Sea,’’ the Beijing insider said, referring to China’s contested maritime claims and to its northwestern region where authorities have detained a million Muslims.

A Democratic president would almost certainly take a more wide-ranging approach to China. The candidates struck a strident tone in the debate last week, with several vowing to increase pressure on China over its human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong.

Trump does not seem concerned about those issues, said Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

‘‘Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, the free, and open Indo-Pacific, all of these are issues that President Trump does not typically address,’’ Economy said. ‘‘If I’m correct in my assumption that he doesn’t care about these issues, because he never talks about them, then he will be more willing to just trade them out in discussions with the Chinese.’’

Advertisement



As if to prove that point, Trump declared Friday that he would be willing to veto legislation designed to support pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong — despite its near-unanimous support in the House and Senate — to pave the way for a trade deal with China.

None of this means that China will make the next year easy for Trump.

There has been no tangible progress on the ‘‘phase one’’ trade deal that the American leader had hoped to sign this month.

In October, Trump said the two sides were on the brink of ‘‘a very substantial’’ agreement under which China would double its annual purchases of US farm goods to more than $40 billion. But he said last week that China was not ‘‘stepping up to the level that I want.’’

Many analysts expect a ‘‘phase one’’ deal to be reached, not least because many of the provisions are in China’s interest. A virus has decimated the pig population in China, the world’s largest consumer of pork, spurring officials to look abroad and to other meats to satisfy demand. And the ‘‘phase one’’ deal looks a lot like the deal on the table in April — minus the parts that irritated Beijing.

Still, China’s leaders have no incentive to proceed quickly, said Paul Haenle, an Asia adviser in the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama who is now at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing. ‘‘Why would we give the US a comprehensive deal going into an election year?’’ Haenle said, posing the question Beijing officials are asking themselves. ‘‘If we give you a lot now and in 2020, then what will we have to give Trump in his second term?’’

Advertisement