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US elections 2020

Many ordinary Chinese see win for Trump as blessing for Beijing

But business people and students would prefer more harmonious ties under Biden

A delivery courier rides a motorbike decorated with a portrait of U.S. President Donald Trump and "Trump 2020" flags in Beijing on Oct. 14.   © AP

HONG KONG/NEW YORK -- A seemingly contradictory view gaining traction among Chinese ahead of Tuesday's U.S. presidential election is that a Donald Trump victory can be a blessing for Beijing.

From a young tech industry worker in Shenzhen to an 87-year-old retiree in Shanghai, ordinary Chinese are showing unprecedented interest in U.S. politics, mainly because the relationship between the world's two biggest economies has become a hot topic.

While many Chinese resent Trump's attacks on their country, they also believe his reelection would benefit China as it would lead to overseas talent coming home, boost the confidence of Chinese people and tear apart the Washington-led anti-Beijing coalition.

Some internet users have given the Republican candidate a Chinese nickname -- "Jianguo Chuan," or "Build the State Trump," which stems from a belief that the U.S. president is contributing to China's rise by accelerating America's decline.

"I think some Chinese people want Trump to be reelected because he has shattered the U.S.'s image as a dreamland for many people," said a Shenzhen-based tech company employee who gave his name as "Thomas."

Trump will expose more of the U.S.'s ugly side if he stays in power longer, the young professional said. "I think it helps Chinese people find their confidence."

Others say Trump is one reason many well-educated Chinese are returning home.

Jack Cai, who is studying for a doctorate in computer science in the U.S., is considering returning to China after graduation.

"If Trump is reelected and it gets more difficult to live here in terms of visas and safety, I might as well just return to China," Cai said. While the scholar in his 20s prefers the U.S. work culture to China's "996" -- where tech industry employees work nine hours a day, six days a week, the thought of "not having to listen to Trump" has become a big draw for Cai.

If Trump is elected, Cai expects more STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students like him to return, boosting near-term technological development and university teaching standards in China.

Over the past year, Trump has significantly tightened visa requirements for Chinese nationals, especially for STEM students. Since June, the U.S. has revoked visas for more than 1,000 Chinese graduate students and scholars citing their ties with the Chinese military.

A Trump victory would also provide an opportunity for China to improve relationships with some of the U.S.'s traditional allies, said Zhang Jiadong, a researcher at Centre for American Studies, Fudan University.

"For China's long-term interest, I think Trump is better than Biden," Zhang said. "Biden will emphasize more on the international coalition when forming China policy, while Trump does not seek such unification."

Trump has threatened allies like South Korea and Japan over trade issues and disparaged members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Even so, Zhang believes Trump has ratcheted up hostilities toward China as part of a show aimed at winning the election. The scholar said that, if reelected, Trump would shift his focus to domestic issues rather than further escalate tensions with Beijing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden walk down the red carpet on the tarmac during an arrival ceremony in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. on Sept. 24, 2015.    © AP

Nevertheless, some Chinese are craving for a victory for Trump's Democratic rival, Joe Biden, as they believe he could restore a familiar order.

"For business people like us, we believe harmony brings wealth," said Ye Zhenqing, a factory owner in Wenzhou, in eastern China, who has exported sunglasses to Europe and the U.S. for more than 20 years.

"I don't like the way Trump treats China," Ye said, adding that his export business has been hit by the trade war. The factory boss said he prefers Biden as he appears to be less confrontational and more capable of putting trade back on track.

Overseas education agencies in China are also hoping for a new White House occupant.

"A lot of [Chinese] students and parents are very anxious about studying abroad, and it has severely damaged our industry," said a study abroad specialist in Beijing who gave his name as Timothy.

He said the Trump administration's suppression of international students has negatively affected how Chinese living in the mainland view the U.S. "We definitely don't want Trump to be reelected," Timothy said.

A symbolic photo montage of Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump.   © AP

Wu Hairong, an 87-year-old retiree in Shanghai, believes a different U.S. president would make little difference to China's national interest.

"It's not important who wins," Wu said. "The U.S. will still try to dominate the world order." With China's position in the world getting stronger, Wu said the U.S. should abandon its pursuit for hegemony and collaborate with China.

"I hope Trump sees the situation clearly and pulls back before it's too late," he said.

While this year's U.S. presidential election has sparked heated discussions among ordinary Chinese, the top leadership in Beijing has given few clues to their preference. State media also appear to be refraining from commenting on individual candidates, except for Hu Xijin, the outspoken editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times tabloid.

In his reply to a Trump tweet in May accusing China of helping Biden with a state-led disinformation campaign, Hu said: "On the contrary, Chinese netizens wish for your reelection because you can make America eccentric and thus hateful for the world. You help promote unity in China and also make international news as fun as comedy."

The country's foreign ministry, however, has repeatedly distanced China from the U.S. election.

"We are not interested in the presidential election of the U.S. and hope they will stop making China an issue in the election," spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during a news conference on Oct. 23.

Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the U.S., said in a webinar to Washington-based think tank Brookings Institute in August: "Let me make it very clear here: We have no intention or interest to get involved [in the U.S. presidential election]."

Instead, Cui said China is ready to work with the current U.S. administration to solve existing problems and will not wait to act until the result comes out.

Feng Chucheng, a partner at Plenum China, a political consultancy, said that the Chinese leadership does not prefer one candidate over the other.

"The strategic competition between China and the U.S.," Chu said, "will be a protracted one regardless of who wins the election this November."

With or without Trump, Chu said, the China-U.S. relationship faces a bumpy road in regard to technological leadership, geopolitical issues and China's growing global ambitions.

Nevertheless, Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Centre for China Studies, believes leaders in Beijing would rather deal with Biden.

"Beijing would prefer a more stable enemy than Trump, who is considered to be very unpredictable and adopts unconventional means toward China," Lam said.

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