The China syndrome: where the presidential candidates stand on Sino-US ties

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2016, 6:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 November, 2016, 3:01am

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been vocal about China. While businessman Trump’s focus has mainly been trade, former diplomat Clinton has been promoting hawkish China policies in Washington for years. It’s easy to see which of the candidates Beijing would vote for.

China’s “fortress”: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump doesn’t dabble in defence issues that often as is supporters appear more interested in him bashing Hillary Clinton. But at a rally in Concord, North Carolina in November 2016, he described Beijing’s South China Sea militarisation as “building a fortress”, and added that China did not like the US.

The “pivot” pioneer: The so-called pivot to Asia has been a staple of foreign policy throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, but it was actually Hillary Clinton who pushed the idea in the first place in an October 2011 article called “America’s Pacific Century”. In it she emphasised America;s military might and how the South China Sea has “half the world’s merchant tonnage [flowing] through this water”.

China is “raping” the US: China has committed “the greatest theft in the history of the world” and “raped” the US in trade, Trump said several times in May 2016. “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that’s what they’re doing,” he told supporters in Fort Wayne, Indiana, referring to China’s high number of exports relative to the US. On another occasion he said of China: “They come in. They take our jobs. They take our products. They make a fortune. And we owe them US$1.5 trillion.” The “rape” analogy appears to be a favourite of Trump, who also used it to describe the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. “It’s a rape of our country. It’s a harsh word, but that’s what it is – rape of our country.”

“Shameless” Xi: In September 2015, Clinton had strong words on Twitter about President Xi Jinping following a United Nations meeting on women’s rights. “Xi hosting a meeting on women’s rights at the UN while persecuting feminists? Shameless,” Clinton tweeted Sunday, referring to the imprisonment of five women’s activists earlier in the year in China.

In response to Clinton’s tweet, state-run newspaper The Global Times accused the former secretary of state of being a “rabble-rouser” and copying Trump’s “ignominious shenanigans” to “chase votes”. “The US presidential election has resulted in an increasing number of ill consequences when democracy spins out of control,” the newspaper said.

Tough trade talk: Donald Trump threatened to cut ties with China if any of his businesses were affected. In a TV interview in October 2016, Trump vowed to be “tough so the US can make something”. When asked what would happen if China “said no more visas to go to Las Vegas and stay at Trump Tower”, Trump said: “If China ever did that, and we cut off relationship with China, China would go bust so fast,” said Trump.

Mainland internet freedom: While US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton made a dramatic shift away from Washington’s reluctance to challenge China on several issues. In January 2010, Clinton was very vocal in her criticism of China over its internet censorship, throwing her weight behind Google’s threat to leave the country over the hacking of mainland activist’s accounts and being forced to censor its search engine. “In an interconnected world, an attack on one nation’s networks can be an attack on all,” she said. “Countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation.” Clinton likened online censorship by China, Vietnam and Iran to the rise of communist Europe and warn of a new “information curtain” unless action to protect internet freedoms was taken. Clinton called on Beijing to investigation the breaches.

The Tiananmen Square “riot”: Donald Trump raised eyebrows around the world when in March 2016 he referred to the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square as a “riot”. The outspoken billionaire made the remark during a televised debate when asked about the student-led protests and subsequent government crackdown. CNN moderator Jake Tapper wanted Trump’s response to critics who had expressed concern about previous Tiananmen comments Trump reportedly made to Playboy magazine in 1990. “You’ve said: ‘When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it, then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.’ How do you respond?” Tapper asked. “I was not endorsing it. I said that is a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength,” he said. “And then they kept down the riot. It was a horrible thing. It doesn’t mean at all I was endorsing it.”

China’s “new colonialism”: In 2012, Clinton warned Africa to watch out for “new colonialism” as China expanded ties there, pumping almost US$10 billion into the continent in 2009. “We don’t want to see a new colonialism in Africa,” said Clinton, secretary of state at the time, in a television interview in Zambia, the first stop on a five-day Africa tour. “When people come to Africa to make investments, we want them to do well but also want them to do good,” she said. “We don’t want them to undermine good governance in Africa.” At the same time, critics of Clinton – including Trump – allege her familiy’s foundation was raking in millions in donations from wealthy Africans in return for US State Department benefits.

Global warming ‘made in China’: Donald Trump is very open about his belief that climate change is not man-made. But during the first presidential debate, he denied Clinton’s accusation that he claimed climate change is a hoax created by China. “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real,” Clinton said, going after Trump for his repeated climate change denial. “I did not. I do not say that,” Trump responded. However, it wasn’t long before his tweet from 2012 saying exactly that was dredged up from the depths of the internet.

Disputed territory: Clinton was not trying to make friends in Beijing with her comment in 2013 about the disputed Diaoyu Islands. “Although the United States does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands, we acknowledge they are under the administration of Japan,” Clinton said, repeating the long-standing US position on the dispute. “We oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration, and we urge all parties to take steps to prevent incidents and manage disagreements through peaceful means.”

Burgers and blood: President Xi Jinping was due in town but Trump wasn’t pleased about it. Speaking on The O’Reilly Factor television programme in August 2015, the billionaire criticised the Obama administration for its plans to hold a state dinner when the Chinese president visits Washington. “I would not be throwing him a dinner. I would get him a McDonald’s hamburger and say we’ve got to get down to work because you can’t continue to devalue,” he said, according to a transcript published by the Daily Caller. Trump has repeatedly attacked China’s trade policy, claiming the country’s currency devaluation would “suck the blood out” of America.

Reporting by Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg, The Guardian