Trump & Western Populism: My thoughts from China

Witnessing first hand Chinese reactions to the US election indicates a mature country, far more at ease with itself than the USA, UK or Europe.

Much has been made in recent years of the Chinese economic slowdown, and how it might impact on ‘harmony’ domestically. Yet, if we can learn anything from 2016 it’s that China is a country much more at comfortable in its own social, political & economic skin than either the USA or UK.

Given that I am now on my third year in the Peoples Republic, I have had the rather odd sensation of witnessing earth-shattering changes to my own country from afar. Scotland, I was in China when ‘indyref’ took place. UK, I was here watching Brexit happen. Suffice to say viewing your own country change dramatically from afar; in as alien a political culture to your own as you can get, has been thrilling.

And so, here I have been watching another globally important moment: Trump winning the white house. And throughout all of the chaos engulfing the ‘liberal democracies’ of the world (France & Italy next remember!) I have arrived at some conclusions.

Firstly, Chinese people are much more self confident and optimistic about all of our futures than we are. This is captured in their reactions to Trump. Trump is an unknown here, his anti-China rhetoric alarming. But Chinese people; fully aware of what was said during the election campaign; have largely chosen to withhold judgement. It feels like the entirety of China took a deep collective breath and vowed to see what actually materialises. They took the mature and grown up response (unlike German hysterics)

Unlike many Europeans, the Chinese have reacted like grown-ups and withheld judgement.

This hesitancy is more akin to maturity than insecurity. China’s people and leaders are confident and optimistic about the coming years. They refuse to believe that Trump would actually do what he said he’d do; at least not on the scale he said he’d do it. ‘Doesn’t he realise just how much both China & USA benefit from our trading together?’ they ask.

One wonders just how much of Trump’s rhetoric was playing to his peanut gallery. I for one follow the Beijing reaction: a quiet hesitancy, a wait and see. After all, it is highly doubtful that Trump will actually do what he said he’d do. A return to mercantilism? Not likely, maybe some forms of protectionism but the creation of all out barriers? Or trade wars with China? No dice. Beijing is right, even Trump is aware of the strategic importance of China and her rising economic clout. Nobody can be that ignorant. Nobody can be so unaware of how vital it is for Washington to keep Beijing subsidising US debt. Especially when one considers the debt-creating tax cuts TheDonald has planned.

As for your average Chinese person, given that I live here, I have talked to some about it. Some doubt Trump is qualified, some choose to wish him well. They are all convinced that whatever happens, China will cooperate where it can; disagree where it must.

Compare this quiet, mature hesitancy with the hysterics going on in the UK circa Brexit right now. High Court rulings being second guessed by newspaper editors with an agenda, parliament at war with the executive as to what precisely the ‘Royal Prerogative’ means. Compare this China to the USA of Trump and mass riots going on across their country.

Which country seems more adult, more confident and self assured? And what does that say about the sorry state of liberal democracy?



One comment

  1. I’m not sure what it says about Liberal democracy. And never having even visited China, I couldn’t begin to think of what it says about the Chinese either.

    So, I’ll content myself by saying that I suspect Trump won’t do almost anything he said he will do.

    It worries me a bit that he whipped a pile of people into a frenzy about hating Mexicans, Muslims and Mrs Clinton, and that without a doubt, some of them will be disappointed by the facts that the wall won’t be built; Mrs Clinton won;t be jailed and Mr trump will find that it is illegal to ban a religious group from entering the USA.

    Racial tensions are already high in the country and I can imagine that they will get worse. So what he has to do is sort out VERY fast, jobs from poor people. Because folk with jobs and with lives rapidly getting better, are a lot less likely to riot because someone hasn’t been jailed.

    Is he bright? … probably. Is he sensible? No. Is he up to the job? I doubt it, but there will be people around him who are. Will he and we have some embarrassing moments? Yes. Will we survive? Yep.

    But for better or for worse he’s the president for the next 4 years so he’d better get used to him.

    He is not, in his favour, a warmonger. Maybe the UK will be able to avoid going to war in the next four years, on command from their bosses in Washington.


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