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Chinese more upbeat than Asian neighbours over Sino-US ties – no matter who wins election: survey

People in China are more upbeat about the future development of Sino-US relations than their Asian counterparts, even though the two nations are often in confrontation over issues ranging from maritime disputes to cybersecurity, according to a survey ahead of the US presidential election.

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The survey, commissioned by the South China Morning Post, also shows that Chinese people believe that both Republican candidate Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton would be more effective than current US President Barack Obama at handling conflicts involving China and the US. In certain areas, they appear to be more confident about Trump.

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The online poll of more than 3,600 people from China, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea was conducted by the independent polling firm, Blackbox Research, between October 12 and 23. The respondents included 1,500 people from first and second-tier cities in China.

Some 36 per cent of the Chinese polled said the current Sino-US relationship was excellent, giving a score of eight to 10 on a 10-point scale, and 52 per cent gave a score of five to seven. Only 15 per cent gave scores in the lower end, from zero to five.

Some 18 per cent of Indonesians and seven per cent of Singaporeans gave the top score. South Koreans were the most negative, with only five per cent seeing Sino-US ties as good. Forty per cent of respondents in Japan and the Philippines gave scores in the lower end.

China and the US are often locking horns, with both sides accusing the other over various issues, including militarising the South China Sea – also claimed by Taiwan and Southeast Asian nations – posing cybersecurity threats, and currency manipulation.

Analysts said the poll findings indicated that both nations had made efforts to prevent their confrontations from escalating, and that Chinese people believed Trump would be less aggressive in his foreign policy.

David Black, a pollster at Blackbox Research, said the survey showed that people in China viewed the Sino-US relationship very differently than Asians who were looking at it from the outside.

“For the Chinese, there has always been much to love about the US – capitalism, sport, big action movies – and much less to hate,” he said.

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“Compared to historical differences China has had with some of its neighbours in Asia, especially Japan, whom the Chinese are quick to demonise given the chance, the relationship with the US is more often seen in competitive terms rather than as a real threat. The US may prod and provoke Chinese pride on occasion but there are far more reasons to find common ground than difference.”

Stapleton Roy, a former US diplomat specialising in Asian affairs, said the relationship between China and the US was based on national interest.

“We still find it better to cooperate with each other than to get into confrontation,” Roy said. “That’s not going to change whoever becomes president.”

He added: “The pattern in US politics is that our new presidents would often get off on the wrong foot in dealing with China.

“Then they have to come back to a recognition that US interests were not advanced by having confrontational relations with China. I expect that would be the case with either Clinton or Trump.”

Zhang Yuquan, an international relations specialist at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, said Sino-US relations had moved forward over the past decades, despite ups and down. China’s economic growth over the years had made it more confident that disputes between China and the US could be properly handled, he added.

The survey found that Chinese respondents believed Trump would be better at handling the following issues than Obama: the South China Sea (54 per cent); cybersecurity cooperation (59 per cent); trade relations (57 per cent); managing conflict on the Korean Peninsula (52 per cent); and interfering less in Asian affairs (51 per cent). The rating for Trump in these areas was slightly higher than for Clinton.

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But Clinton got a higher rating in human rights protection and intellectual property rights than Trump among Chinese respondents, the survey found.

Overall, slightly more respondents in China believed that Clinton would be better than Trump at building closer ties between the US and China, with 52 per cent for Clinton versus 48 per cent for Trump. However, the vote for Clinton on building closer ties between the US and China in other Asian nations reached more than 70 per cent.

“The polling results show that many Asians are extremely concerned that Trump represents uncertainty, and is an unpredictable character. In contrast, Asians feel that with Clinton, they think they know what they are going to get,” Black said.

Wang Yiwei, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, said China was less worried about who would become the next US president.

“Trump will have less intervention in his diplomatic initiatives. China is worried about protectionism, but that affects corporations and businesses more,” Wang said.

Additional reporting by Shi Jiangtao and Laura Zhou