Republican candidate Donald Trump has a big following in China, particularly among the primarily upper-class population that has been closely watching the US election, and Friday’s video release of lewd remarks from 2005 has done little to diminish support.
Trump supporters on Chinese social media sites have defended his comments as “normal” conversation between men in private, while praising his apology as “perfect” and criticised the American media for smearing the Republican nominee.
Although a recent Pew study revealed that Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton is better liked among Chinese citizens, Trump generates far more interest and support on Chinese social media — on one popular site, the topic centered on Trump has 4 times as many followers as the one centered on Clinton.
There are a number of reasons why Trump is so talked about on Chinese social media, and it’s not all from people who genuinely like the candidate.
A Trump presidency could benefit China
Much of Trump’s support and interest in China comes from people who “desire to see the US democratic system make a fool of themselves,” Yao Lin, a visiting fellow in the public policy department at City University of Hong Kong, told Business Insider.
These supporters, according to Lin, don’t actually like Trump, but simply want “to see the US collapse once Trump seizes the White House.” As such, they tend to share pro-Trump articles online, but do not actually support the candidate.
Others, influenced by China’s authoritarian atmosphere, support Trump because of his charisma and policy stances, comparing him to strong leaders like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, or Mao Zedong. Many of these supporters are wooed by Trump’s isolationist mindset, which they believe would give China the opportunity to rise to the top of the world order or develop a more even relationship with the US, said Lin.
Haoyu Ge, 25, a former missile designer at China North Industries Group Corporation, told Business Insider that he admires Trump’s outspokenness and thinks Trump will encourage the US to stop pressuring other countries to adopt US values. He also praised Trump’s foreign policy stance, which he thinks would be a great boon for China.
According to Ge, Trump’s criticism of NATO as “obsolete” would make way for China’s military development; his denouncement of unconditional US support for the Philippines, Japan and South Korea would let China better handle territorial disputes in South China Sea and East China Sea; his plan to convince China to intervene in North Korea would help strengthen China’s control over the Korean Peninsula.
Ge Hu, 42, a creative producer and film director, told Business Insider that many Chinese Trump supporters think Trump’s tough words on China — accusing the country of manipulating its currency and having “stolen” jobs from Americans — are warranted.
“If [Trump] says that Chinese people are bad, I will not hesitate to challenge his statement to protect our honour; but I acknowledge the part where he referred to Chinese people taking away Americans’ jobs — because that’s the way it is,” Ge said.
Lin, the public policy fellow, said that Chinese supporters like Ge Hu and Haoyu Ge believe that Trump’s anti-China sentiments are only a figure of speech
while Clinton and Obama have acted upon their anti-China sentiments.
“Their ‘evidence’ comes from Trump’s advocacy for America’s conservationism and isolationism, while Clinton and Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ is the real deal to counter China,” Lin said.
Trump’s Muslim bans echo with China’s anti-Muslim sentiment
Over the last decade, China has waged a war against its Muslim Uighur population in the country’s western provinces. China has suffered numerous terror attacks in Xinjiang province, where the majority of the Uighur population is located, leading to policies described as increasingly repressive by human rights observers.
Trump’s calling for a total ban of Muslims entering the US has reminded many Chinese of the conflict in their own country.
The creative producer, Ge, said that he appreciates Trump’s Muslim ban because China has had difficulty “secularizing” Muslims.
“China’s Muslims has been secularized a lot, but once they become the majority in any region, they will immediately interfere with other non-religious people’s lives,” he said.
Many Chinese people, according to Lin, don’t empathise with and have a strong bias against ethnic minorities in the country like the Muslim Uighurs due to the predominant nationalistic mindset that has persisted for hundreds of years.
Ye Yin, 22, a student at Shanghai University, told Business Insider that Trump would set “a good example” for China to “oppress” Islamic terrorism and allow China to “compromise political correctness” to bolster its domestic security.
“As a Chinese person, I understand China is also under attack from terrorism. From incidents in Ürümqi, Kunming to Guangzhou, we are under threat. But the Chinese government has been bearing insults in exchange for peace,” Ye Yin said.
China’s “citizen media” are distorting the information
Strict censorship in China, the ” Great Firewall,” and the language barrier has prevented many Chinese election observers from viewing US social media outlets and mainstream American media directly.
Because of this, China has a prevalent culture of “citizen media” — Chinese users that know how to bypass the “Firewall” share news to users who don’t. The news that reaches such users is typically filtered through the biases of the “citizen media,” who tend to selectively share information, says Lin.
“Citizen journalists” on Chinese social media have introduced users to a tremendous amount of conspiracy theories from America’s alt-right websites, exposing many Chinese readers to “junk information,” said Lin — like the Clintons murdering dozens of people and the possibility of a Hillary Clinton body double.
Chinese users are particularly susceptible to conspiracy theories because they typically have “low media literacy,” according to Kecheng Fang, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral student researching Chinese politics and the founder of CNPolitics.org, an independent website on Chinese politics.
In addition, the nonexistent transparency from the Chinese government and the state-run media has created a situation in which many are unable to distinguish fact from fiction and “tend to believe many things are conspiracies,” he added.
Such conspiracy theories have intensified Chinese people’s repugnance to Clinton, according to Lin.
“Majority of Chinese netizens neither have the ability nor interest to cross-examine the accuracy of these news, so its [negative reports] effectiveness is undermined,” he said.
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