Chinese citizens, once terrified to voice their political views, speak freely now, as I learned last week touring three of the country’s (and the world’s) largest cities. At least, they talk freely when commenting on foreign leaders.
Political freedom in China? Let’s not get carried away, as was the friend of one of my co-workers when he commented negatively about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy on the omnipresent WeChat. The next day he was called in to police headquarters for questioning and a stern warning.
After a comprehensive questioning of less than a dozen of China’s well over 1 billion citizens, and after leaving the country, I can safely report on the Chinese perspective on Donald Trump.
They enjoy him.
Of course I found this affection more than a bit puzzling. But Trump isn’t hurting China nearly as much as China is hurting itself. The Chinese economy, unbeknownst to most of the world, is slumping and has been for months before Trump’s puny punitive measures. Companies are closing, workers laid off in droves. This is the upshot of a long-term slowdown exacerbated by a debt-fueled several years of artificial growth — much like what Trump has now engineered for the U.S.
To pay the freight for government stimuli, workers were assessed a 15 percent tax hike. Nothing kills consumer and political appetites like a new tax burden. Xi was welcomed just a few years ago as a welcome populist alternative to the stale Politburo corruption of his predecessors, and the Chinese embraced his clean-it-up attitude toward China’s chronic bribery culture wherein a tenth or more of all contracts were going into the pockets of dealmakers.
Now, however it’s become apparent to all Chinese that Xi has bent the Party’s rules to establish himself as a dictator for life, a man who would be king. His anticorruption drive has been extensive — far fewer red envelopes passing hands at the end of the year.
So what’s Trump compared to this towering menace? A disruption, a comic blip. And unlike any Chinese citizen, this American buffoon somehow gets to insult a leader no Chinese can tackle.
Like the rest of the world, the Chinese citizenry is well aware that Trump is a buffoon. Their government has no inclination to kowtow to a clown, and it has the patience and the power to wait out the rants of a two-bit, would-be dictator whose own power is waning fast amid scandal, internecine rancor, and sheer ineptitude.
So the Chinese will enjoy the reality show that is Trump’s presidency and wish their own dictator was so laughably loose-lipped and inept.