Donald Trump says he “knows” China. He “likes” China, in fact “loves” China. And so long as the Chinese do exactly as he wants, he’ll continue loving China. And that’s why the Chinese, along with the Japanese, the Europeans, even the Republican Party’s national security establishment (http://warontherocks.com/2016/03/open-letter-on-donald-trump-from-gop-national-security-leaders/) fear a Trump presidency.
And well they should. Although official Chinese sources have made few direct comments on Trump’s campaign, I found plenty of concern during a brief visit to Shanghai last week. (China’s Global Times did comment on March 14 following the anti-Trump protests in Chicago, saying he is “racist and extremist,” unpredictable, and a sign that US democracy is not as strong or exemplary as it might seem to be [www.globaltimes.cn/content/973564.shtml]). Trump was the main topic of interest to the Chinese professors I met. They have heard enough about him to believe his administration would represent a huge departure from the past, with the prospect of constant confrontations, impolite dialogue, and no compromising. After all, as Trump says, he wants to put America “back in the global leadership business.”
What is so threatening about Trump’s views of China? First, he doesn’t know anything about China. He hasn’t been there, and so far as I’m aware hasn’t studied it or brought in anyone who has. His sole story meant to convey his expertise on China is that he sold an apartment in Trump Tower to a Chinese bank tenant for $55 million. As a result, “I have a great relationship with China. . . . I know China” (www.ibtimes.com/beijing-dismisses-donald-trump-china-comments-disturbances-because-most-americans-2077141).
But in fact Trump views China as an enemy, as he told Wolf Blitzer of CNN in 2011:
“These are not our friends. These are our enemies. These are not people that understand niceness. And the only thing you can do, Wolf, to get their attention is to say either we’re not going to trade with you any further or, in the alternative, we’re going to tax your products as they come into the United States” (http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/20/the-situation-room-with-wolf-blitzer-donald-trump-on-china-these-are-not-our-friends-these-are-our-enemies/).
Second, his opinion of China is the opposite of “a great relationship.” It comes down to one thing: China is raking America over the coals through trade and currency manipulation. In his words, “this is a country that is ripping off the United States like nobody other than OPEC has ever done before.” Here is more of what he said on those topics a few years ago (www.forbes.com/sites/jackperkowski/2011/04/05/trump-on-china/#153401d040ca):
“No, it [a trade war] will cause a depression in China, not here. China is making all the money. We’re not making the money. I mean, look at the numbers. Look at the – look at the difference as to what we import compared to what they’re importing . . . It’s like day and night. I like getting rid of that kind of a partnership. I mean that’s called we’re losing a lot of money. I like getting rid of it.” And:
“For us to be holding state dinners for people who are just totally manipulating their currency…is hard to believe . . . . You don’t give dinners to the enemy and that’s what they’re doing [referring to a state dinner for then-Chinese leader Hu Jintao] . . . I would have sent them to McDonalds if we didn’t make a deal and said, “Go home.” . . . The fact is they’re laughing at our leadership, and we’re letting them get away with murder.”
Now of course Donald Trump is hardly the first prominent American to accuse China of currency manipulation and chafe at the trade figures in China’s favor. Those are legitimate issues. But the tenor of his comments suggests that he’ll treat Chinese officials like small-time business people who will be sent home if they don’t “make a deal” he likes. The notion of what international negotiations with another great power entails escapes Trump. Business is business, he believes. And believing as he does that only the Chinese have made money is absurd. Actually, Donald J. Trump Collection products, such as shirts and cufflinks, as well as his wife’s own line of clothing, are made in China as well as in other low-wage countries (www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-decries-outsourced-labor-yet-he-didnt-seek-made-in-america-in-2004-deal/2016/03/13/4d65a43c-e63a-11e5-b0fd-073d5930a7b7_story.html?tid=pm_pop_b). So Trump makes money from China, just as he does by hiring Mexican workers for his hotels, all while creating the impression that Americans are being duped.
In fact, in Trump’s mind, everything China does is suspect. As he said about climate change: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” Political scientists call that the bad-faith model, which automatically excludes the possibility that Trump’s view of China can change no matter what the Chinese do. But scapegoating China clearly resonates with Trump’s supporters.
What does Trump propose to do about China’s treacherous behavior? His campaign has produced the following program, which is notable for its oversimplifications of the problem and the emphasis on bullying as remedies:
“The Trump Plan Will Achieve The Following Goals:
Bring China to the bargaining table by immediately declaring it a currency manipulator. (“What would I do [about China]?” Trump was asked by Rush Limbaugh. “I would tell China that if you don’t straighten out your manipulation of the currency — and I mean fast; I mean really fast — we are going to tax your products 25%. Now, what that will do is two things. Number one: Immediately will start doing our own manufacturing. We don’t have to make toys that are coated with lead paint in China. We can make good toys in Alabama and North Carolina.”)
Protect American ingenuity and investment by forcing China to uphold intellectual property laws and stop their unfair and unlawful practice of forcing U.S. companies to share proprietary technology with Chinese competitors as a condition of entry to China’s market.
Reclaim millions of American jobs and reviving American manufacturing by putting an end to China’s illegal export subsidies and lax labor and environmental standards. No more sweatshops or pollution havens stealing jobs from American workers.
Strengthen our negotiating position by lowering our corporate tax rate to keep American companies and jobs here at home, attacking our debt and deficit so China cannot use financial blackmail against us, and bolstering the U.S. military presence in the East and South China Seas to discourage Chinese adventurism.”
The Republicans’ national security critique cited above ends by saying Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency. Here are a few tidbits from the statement that are relevant to Trump and China:
“His vision of American influence and power in the world is wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle. He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence.
“His advocacy for aggressively waging trade wars is a recipe for economic disaster in a globally connected world.
“His equation of business acumen with foreign policy experience is false. Not all lethal conflicts can be resolved as a real estate deal might, and there is no recourse to bankruptcy court in international affairs.
“Mr. Trump’s own statements lead us to conclude that as president, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world. . . . We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.”
“China is killing us,” Trump says. He cannot conceive of the possibility that US-China tensions, whether on trade or the South China Sea dispute, are the product of both countries’ actions. Trump has a one-sided mind, seemingly incapable of grasping nuances, acknowledging cultural differences, and seeking common ground. Given the opportunity, he’ll “kill” China and destroy opportunities for settling disputes with it and many other countries. My Chinese colleagues therefore most wanted to know my answer to a simple question: Will Trump win? I guaranteed that Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would defeat him, and even urged them to bet on it. And if I’m wrong? I said I would be applying for Chinese citizenship.