Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Trump Effect in China

As serendipity would have it, within mere minutes of my posting a critique of Gideon Rachman’s contention that Donald Trump was the best friend China’s President Xi Jinping ever had, lo and behold, I discovered a New York Times column by the paper’s tech columnist… arguing that reform minded Chinese believe that Donald Trump is a good thing.

In particular, Li Yuan  explained, Chinese reformers want the current trade negotiations, the ones that Rachman labeled a farce, to press the government to stop subsidizing state run enterprises… and thus to move closer to a free market.

Li Yuan wrote:

Donald J. Trump has referred to China as “our enemy.” He has called it “a major threat.” “Remember,” he once wrote on Twitter, “China is not a friend of the United States!”

Some people in China have their own label for the polarizing American president: savior.

At dinner tables, in social media chats and in discreet conversations, some of the country’s intellectual and business elite are half-jokingly, half-seriously cheering on the leader who has built a large part of his political career on China-bashing.

“Only Trump can save China,” goes one quip. Others call him the “chief pressure officer” of China’s reform and opening.

Their semi-serious praise reflects the deepening despair among those in China who fear their country is on the wrong track. An aggressive outsider like President Trump, according to this thinking, can help China find its way again.

Fearful of American cultural toxins, the government of Xi Jinping has exercised even more control over society. But then, along came Trump:

The Communist Party has become more involved in business, the economypublic discourse and other elements of everyday life. Many of these elite fear that after 40 years of reform and opening up, China is retreating. To make matters worse, nobody at home appears willing or able to fight the trend. President Xi Jinping has become the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, hurting the chances that internal opposition can push back.

Then came Mr. Trump and his trade war. Among other demands, American negotiators are calling on China to play a smaller role in the country’s economy. They want the Chinese government to stop throwing money at state-controlled companies. They want lower trade barriers and a level playing field for private businesses.

She offers some additional observations:

The breadth of support for Mr. Trump in China isn’t clear. Many business leaders dare not speak out for fear of angering the Communist Party.

The talk is hard to miss. The first time I heard the “Only Trump can save China” quip was a few months ago from a self-described apolitical tech entrepreneur in Guangdong Province in southern China. He complained about rising taxes and growing government interference in the economy. He was worried that if his start-up failed, he could end up on a newly created blacklist that would prevent him from taking flights and checking in at some hotels.

This image of Mr. Trump is often at odds with reality. Supporters of his who have long pushed China on human rights are cheering a president who wants to make it harder for migrants fleeing political persecution to find sanctuary in the United States. It’s a strange disconnect to listen to graying activists — educated free thinkers, some of whom have gone to prison for their ideals — put their hopes in a man who openly admires autocrats and calls journalists “the enemy of the people.”

Optimists nevertheless point to signs that they say show Mr. Trump is having an impact. Facing both the trade war and a slowdown in growth that began in the middle of last year, China’s leadership has embraced some modest liberalization. The government has promised to cut taxes, ease other burdens on the private sector and give markets a somewhat bigger role in the economy.

Obviously, the pressure to reform is mostly aimed at economic policy. Strange to say, but throwing grand ideals at China did not produce anything like the same outcomes.

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

That White DEVIL!! He's "corrupting" the Chinese people!! Right under the NOSE of Chairman Xi!!! (Heh. Heh. Heh.)