Written by Emilia Jiang
When you type in ‘US election 2016’ on Baidu.com, China’s biggest search engine as Google has been banned for access since 2014, millions of news threads pop out instantly, along with key words such as ‘joke’, ‘ridiculous’ and ‘reality show’.
For many past presidential elections, The Chinese Communist Party use them to mock and excoriate American democracy for its failings and argue that one-party rule works just fine for China. But this year has offered an embarrassment of riches for gloating.
“The race to the bottom will make people rethink the value of democracy,” commented one Chinese state-owned newspaper. Another said the presidential race had become “an unprecedented joke”.
Carrie Gracie, the China editor of BBC news, says in one of her reports on China’s relations with the US election that “there is real damage to the reputation of the American political system as a result of this year’s toxic presidential race.”
Chinese mass media have varied views of Trump: some describe him as an “irrational type”, who employs a “childish style of speaking”. Others think he is a candidate who would “bring changes to the Sino-U.S. relationship”.
With Trump being more of a puzzlement to Chinese officials, Clinton is seen as a fundamentally consistent politician, meaning that even if her actions run counter to China’s interest, at least they can be anticipated.
But what do Chinese people think of the candidates, apart from the mainstream media and official viewpoints? Although most Chinese people seem to not be paying too much attention to the election, the interested ones – and there are many – have heated a discussion on social media.
On Zhihu, the Chinese counterpart of Quora, Trump has a solid number of supporters despite some of his outrageous accusations towards China. A poll held in May by journalists from China Daily also found that more than 60 percent of mainland and overseas Chinese say they support Trump, while only about 8 percent voiced their preference for Clinton.
Many of Trump’s Chinese supporters agree on his isolationism when it comes to foreign policy whilst Clinton initiated the Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy which is aimed at containing China. They also think that Trump is more likely to have America’s best interests by promising to lower taxes and enforce existing laws, whilst Clinton is thought of a “political talker”.
That’s not to suggest people in China are offering Trump a glowing endorsement. Rather, it’s a case of the “lesser of two evils”.
Hilary Clinton was brutally bashed on Chinese social media when she officially announced her decision to run for president last year. One commented that she is the “female version of Hitler”. Another predicted that she would be responsible for World War III.
Clinton has lost her popularity in China for several reasons. She previously publicly condemned China’s record on human rights, political systems and internet censorship. She also accused China of hacking US computers and stealing commercial secrets and government information. But her view on the ownership of the South China Sea has sparked a particularly strong chord in China. In 2010, Clinton, as Secretary of State, outraged Beijing after pushing the South China Sea to the top of the regional and US security agendas and expressing a desire for more US intervention.
Regardless, handling the rise of China is going to be biggest challenges for the next president of United States.