Recently a number of stories have appeared in the Western liberal media pushing the narrative that US President Donald Trump despises both China and the Chinese people. The former stems from comments he has made in conjunction with the tariffs he has applied on Chinese products entering the United States, the hurt this has caused China and the likelihood of a trade war and perhaps even a military confrontation.
The second is an outgrowth of the idea that Trump is a racist, a view his opponents advanced during the election campaign in 2015-16 and have been propagating ever since.
The two themes, in tandem, are useful to the Democratic Party going into an election in November 2018. While only a legislative election it is a critical one and Trump is the salient issue of the campaign for Democrats.
Are the charges true? The facts speak otherwise.
Trump’s life and his experiences doing business with and what he has said about China and the Chinese is a good place to start.
During his younger days conducting business in New York City (where there are more Chinese than any other American city), Trump often dealt with China and the Chinese. He had business deals with the Chinese. He rented property to the Chinese. If he didn’t like them this would likely not have been true.
Not only that but his list of recommended books to read is topped by Sun Tzu’s book The Art of War and contains four other books about China including Henry Kissinger’s book On China.
A few years ago, Trump encouraged his grandchildren, with whom he is close, to study Chinese and speak it daily. They did that — they have even conversed with and entertained top officials from China, including President Xi Jinping and his wife, the First Lady, in Chinese. Few other Americans, much less its top leaders, can say that.
Trump has also praised the Chinese people and Chinese culture in his public discourse. He has related very well with Chinese leaders that visited the United States and when he visited China.
In his book The Art of the Deal, Trump made an issue of the huge trade deficit the US had with China and the corrosive effects this had on America. But he did not blame China for this; he castigated American leaders for allowing it to happen and all that came with it: the loss of American’s jobs, the shuttering of American companies, and an unbearable US debt.
Unlike the liberal Western press, which fears and hates China for it being an existential threat to the liberal world order and pictures it as a destroyer supplanting it with its own “China Dream,” Trump is not part of that crowd.
The Western media likewise is full of condemnations of China for its authoritarian system, citing Xi for getting rid of term limits (though Chinese citizens and the media in developing countries have not expressed alarm) and human rights abuses (even though China’s human rights record is infinitely better than it was in the past and many world leaders agree with China’s view, as formalized in the Bangkok Declaration, that assessing a nation’s human rights one needs to consider its history and culture and that China does not have some of the serious problems seen in the US and other Western countries, such as crime, the status of elders, etc). Trump has not given attention to these matters.
The Western liberal press is now regularly criticizing China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that will link up much of the world in trade and other commerce and will be a boon to developing countries. Trump did not join that chorus. In fact, he praised the BRI and even led American companies to participate. He also promised, and so acted, to terminate the Transpacific Partnership agreement, a plan to regulate trade engineered by the Obama administration that was patently anti-China and specifically targeted China’s economic influence globally.
Trump has instead lauded China’s economic progress and its work in getting rid of world poverty and helping developing nations.
Regarding the Chinese in America, their number one complaint is the discrimination their children face in applying for admission to top colleges and universities. When polled Chinese Americans say Boston is the worst US city in terms of bias against the Chinese — because of the many top universities there that have policies to exclude or limit the number of Chinese students.
Recently a group called Students for Fair Admission on behalf of Asian Americans sued Harvard University for racial discrimination over its admissions policies. The organization complained of the university using quotas and “likability” and “kindness” as criteria to weed out Asians (who are by culture quieter and more unassuming).
Among Asians that have complained and that have backed the suit against Harvard, the Chinese have been the most numerous and the most committed.
The Trump administration just recently gave its support to the Asian students in their lawsuit against Harvard. The administration’s position is that admissions should be without racial discrimination to be “conducted lawfully.” Some Trump officials expect the case may go to the Supreme Court where conservative judges will support the students as opposed to liberal judges that like affirmative action.
Still another way of ascertaining whether Trump dislikes Chinese as the liberal media contends is the case is to ask the Chinese for their views.
As is widely known, the Chinese see events and issues from a historical perspective more than others. How then do they see history as it relates to this question?
For a large proportion of Chinese their modern history begins with the Opium War, which to them marks a century-plus of humiliation that they are just recently leaving behind as a product of Deng Xiaoping’s free-market reforms that have produced astonishing economic growth and have made China a major world power.
When they think and speak of the Opium War, they also remember the name Warren Delano — an American businessman cum smuggler who took over the opium trade when the Chinese shut out the British from the business. Delano made millions.
Warren Delano was President Franklin Roosevelt’s grandfather and the source of his middle name and his considerable wealth.
FDR was also an enthusiastic supporter of Chiang Kai-shek and helped him execute a devastating civil war in China after World War II against Mao and his followers. FDR was, of course, a Democrat and a liberal icon.
Meanwhile, at the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson, another Democrat and arguably the most racist among US presidents, sold out China at the peace talks in Versailles. Wilson caved in to Japan’s predatory demands on Chinese territory even though China was on the victor’s side during the war. China’s diplomats walked out of the talks and remained forever bitter about Wilson’s “betrayal.” The Chinese remember this vividly.
The Chinese also recall that it was President Harry Truman who launched a war against China during the Korean conflict, resulting in 180,000 Chinese killed (according to a recent Chinese accounting not previously stated with precision) — half of the total number of soldiers that died in Korea. Mao’s son was among them.
They know that President Nixon, a Republican, made peace with China when Democrat presidents Kennedy and Johnson would not. Nixon put US relations with China on a new and friendly basis that according to Chinese (and other) historians changed the course of history.
Finally, in spite of the recent tiff over tariffs Chinese leaders speak highly of Trump. According to Michael Pillsbury, author of recently-published The Hundred-Year Marathon and arguably the top American China scholar in terms of dealing with and understanding China’s leaders, Trump is seen as highly intelligent, an able negotiator and someone China can be friends with.
The same goes for the man on the street in China. Recent pollsters have concluded Trump is both admired and liked by the Chinese people. One recently reported he met no one that wished Hillary had been elected.
Like the Chinese in China, American Chinese and recent Chinese immigrants in the US talk about Trump on their websites. They describe him as decisive, strong, businesslike, and straightforward. They like his hard line on crime and even his immigration policies which applies to illegals, whom they say create a danger to them and “break the queue” to get government benefits that few Chinese enjoy and instead pay for. They say Chinese are not like other immigrants that come to America for welfare, handouts and an easy life. Surveys show the longer the Chinese are in the US and the more education they have, the more they support Trump.
The inescapable truth is Trump is too much a pragmatist to be racist. He despises identity politics and says he wants to make American great again. This may be defined as nationalism but it has reduced unemployment and despair and has improved the lot of all Americans but especially minorities.
He is also a businessman with the ability to recognize talent. He knows full well that the Chinese have contributed greatly to progress in science and technology and much more in the United States. He has said so frequently.
Democrats accusing Trump of hating China and the Chinese are employing an old strategy of accusing their opposition of misdeeds and nefarious views that are their own to divert attention from the latter.