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)
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?