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Why Trump carries less baggage in China: survey reveals candidate’s surprising popularity

An overwhelming majority of people across east Asia favour Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in next week’s US election, but negative sentiment towards Trump is much lower in mainland China than in its five neighbouring countries, according to a survey commissioned by the Sunday Morning Post.

The poll finds that while only 13 per cent of respondents in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia want to see Trump elected, the support rate for the brash Republican candidate in China is 39 per cent.

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Analysts told the Post that the survey findings showing Trump enjoys much higher popularity in China are consistent with Chinese public opinion and media coverage which, in general, are favourable.

They believe Trump’s unusually high favourability in China is due partly to the fact that he is a relatively little known real estate mogul. Clinton, however, is widely seen as one of the most high-profile political figures running for president in decades and is known for her willingness and ability to stand up to an increasingly assertive Beijing.

“As such, Trump carries less baggage than we see elsewhere in Asia,” said David Black, a pollster at Blackbox Research, which helped conduct the survey.

“The fact that he is essentially a businessman with no attachment to previous US administrations means that the Chinese are, for the moment, giving him the benefit of the doubt.”

Of the more 3,600 people polled online between October 12 and 23, 1,500 respondents were from first- and second-tier mainland Chinese cities.

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While an average of 54 per cent of all respondents in Asia including mainland China said a Clinton presidency would be a better choice for Asia, just 38 per cent of Chinese respondents agreed.

While 67 per cent of Asians did not think Trump would make the world safer, mainland respondents rated him about equal with Clinton on that score.

Intriguingly, Trump scored higher than Clinton in China on the question of who would do a better job of helping resolve territorial conflicts, tackle international terrorism and cybersecurity and foster good trade relations with Asia.

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Respondents were also asked to compare how either candidate as president would perform compared with US President Barack Obama. A greater number in China believed Trump would be more effective than Clinton in managing South China Sea disputes, the North Korean nuclear issue and trade relations, while Clinton would be stronger on protecting human rights and intellectual property.

Richard Bush, director of the Brookings Institution’s Centre for East Asian Policy Studies, said he was not surprised by the findings because Trump often talked tough on US allies in terms of trade and security issues.

“If the effect of his policies is to undermine the US alliance with Korea and Japan, how is that bad for China?”

Robert Sutter, a China specialist at George Washington University, said the Chinese had a negative view of both candidates, but were generally more negative about Clinton, believing she would be tougher to deal with.

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“She’s very tough in terms of her language towards Chinese when dealing with trade, cybertheft and North Korea. She’s very knowledgeable and she highlights the fact that she knows how China operates and she knows that they know. That’s why they don’t like her because she’s going after them,” Sutter said.

“With Trump, the Chinese are often sanguine and optimistic that they can manage the relationship with Trump successfully,” he added.

Wang Yiwei, of the School of International Relations at China’s Renmin University, also agreed that the widespread anti-Clinton sentiment in China had helped Trump in the survey.

“It’s not necessarily that Chinese think highly of Trump. I’d rather think it’s more to do with unfavourable public opinions of Clinton among the Chinese people,” he said.

Mainland analysts noted that Clinton, a Yale-trained lawyer who has served as a US senator, secretary of state and first lady, was quite often critical of China’s diplomatic policies and human rights records. Her popularity plummeted even further due to her staunch support of the US pivot to Asia policy, which was widely seen as part of a policy of containing China.

Additional reporting by Laura Zhou