Clinton likely to win, but China’s prepared for whoever becomes next US president

Chinese experts say Beijing confident of Sino-US ties no matter the outcome as it’s no longer as reliant on Washington as it was before

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 12:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 2:18am

China is prepared for the likely victory of Hillary Clinton in the US presidential election next month, but is confident it will be able to handle bilateral ties whichever candidate wins, say Chinese foreign policy experts.

In the third debate between the two presidential candidates on Thursday morning (Hong Kong time), China played an even smaller role than it did in the first two debates.

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Democrat Clinton criticised Republican candidate Donald Trump for shedding “crocodile tears" as he himself used Chinese steel.

“One of the biggest problems we have with China is the illegal dumping of steel and aluminium into our markets,” Clinton said.

“Donald has bought Chinese steel and aluminium. The Trump Hotel here in Las Vegas was made with Chinese steel. He goes around with crocodile tears about how terrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steel workers, not American steel workers.”

Trump did not directly respond to the accusation.

Meanwhile, Trump said China’s leaders were smarter than America’s politicians.

“We are the greatest business people in the world. We have to use them to negotiate our trade deals. We use political hacks. We use people that get the position because they made a campaign contribution. And they’re dealing with China and people that are very much smarter than they are,” Trump said.

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He also called for an end to US policies that supported other countries in defence.

“As far as Japan and other countries, we are being ripped off by everybody – we’re defending other countries. We’re spending a fortune doing it. They have the bargain of the century,” he said.

“All I said is we have to renegotiate these agreements because our country cannot afford to defend Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany, South Korea and many other places.”

Trump did not, however, explicitly mention the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system that is being backed by Washington and will be deployed in South Korea.

China has strongly protested against THAAD, saying the system’s powerful radar could be used to spy on the Beijing.

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Wang Yiwei, director of Renmin University’s Institute of International Affairs, said that while Trump’s performance had improved since his first debate, the Republican candidate was unlikely to win.

“At least this time they look like they’re having a serious debate,” Wang said. Both candidates were more focused on policy issues rather than personal attacks this time, he said.

“The important thing is that Trump represents the sentiment among the American public that they are not satisfied with the current situation,. He is not likely to win, but at least he managed to send the message across.”

Clinton is leading Trump by 9 percentage points, according to a Bloomberg survey of likely voters, which was conducted after the video leak of Trump boasting about his sexual advances on a married woman.

The video leak resulted in many Republican leaders withdrawing their support for Trump.

Clinton, now tipped as the likely winner in the election, is expected to adopt a tough stance towards China.

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The former US Secretary of State is known for her sharp criticism of China’s human rights record and her deep involvement in the United States’ strategy to rebalance itself towards Asia.

Even so, Beijing was not particularly worried about bilateral relations under a new US leadership, according to the Chinese foreign policy experts.

“The gap between the US and China has narrowed in recent years, in particular in terms of their influence in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Wu Xinbo, director of Fudan University’s Centre for American Studies.

Renmin University’s Wang echoed Wu’s view.

While the Chinese public were following news of the US presidential election very closely and much interest and curiosity, Chinese policymakers were a lot calmer and more certain about where Sino-US relations were heading, Wang said.

“We don’t care that much about the US [election politics] now. With our ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, we are not as reliant on the US as we were before,” he said.

“After all, existing cooperation will not be affected by the change in leadership.”

Jia Qingguo, professor and associate dean of Peking University’s School of International Studies, said even though Clinton was much more likely to win, he would not totally rule out the chance that Trump might still emerge victorious in the election.

“China will still prepare for both possibilities. But Hillary has a much bigger chance of winning and, of course, China is prepared if she wins.”

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Wang and Wu said that as America grew increasingly divided from the bitter public struggle between Clinton and Trump and its “Asia pivot” lost momentum under incumbent US President Barack Obama, the resultant power vacuum gave China room to advance its regional diplomacy without US interference.

“It will take at least six months to a year before the new US president develops a full-fledged strategy in foreign policy … The current situation is favourable to China,” Wang said, citing as examples the recent warming of ties between China and two US allies in Asia – the Philippines and Japan.

Such gains in regional diplomacy would give Beijing the upper hand in dealing with the future US president, Wu said.

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“When we manage relations with our neighbouring countries well, it gives us an advantage in containing [America’s] ‘rebalance to Asia’ strategy,” he said. “We have to take the initiative in our diplomacy strategy vis-à-vis the US, and not be led by our noses.”

Additional reporting by Kristin Huang