Across the Pacific, one of the world's greatest reality television shows is underway. But unlike The Bachelor or The Voice of China, this show will have a lasting tangible impact on China and the world at large. The show is of course the United States Presidential Election.
Anyone who has watched any of the 22 televised debates or speeches given by various candidates may mistake this for scripted TV. It is indeed wildly humorous...until it becomes scary.
So what effect will these candidates have on China and by extension those of us living here? We've broken down the four remaining candidates and their potential impacts on the Middle Kingdom.
Let's start with the one everyone is talking about: Donald Trump. Trump is a celebrity billionaire who is an actual reality TV star from NBC's The Apprentice. He has now turned into a demagogue who has built a political movement on fear and anger.
One of his chosen bogeymen has been China. As he has done with Mexicans and Muslims, Trump has used China as a scapegoat for America's deep-seated problems. Many of the issues angering Trump supporters, who are made up heavily of low-skilled white males, are structural economic problems that have been underway for decades as a result of globalization and technological innovation. But Trump is offering simple solutions to simple people for complex problems.
The bellicose billionaire is full of straightforward but unrealistic solutions, from building a great wall to keep out the Mexicans to "bombing the shit out of ISIS." Perhaps most unfeasible of all is his proposed approach to China.
This cantankerous quack seems to think that merely "getting tough" will move Xi Jinping – currently one of the strongest leaders in the world – to capitulate simply because The Donald says so.
Trump's China policy wouldn't be limited to mere sabre rattling, however. He insists on "getting better deals" in trade and consistently accuses China of stealing American manufacturing jobs, clearly a concern for low-skilled workers.
Needless to say, strained relations between the world's two largest economies are on the horizon in the event of a Trump presidency. As of now, it is a strong possibility as he is still the Republican front-runner.
Cruz, for the most part, is every bit as extreme as Donald Trump on both foreign and domestic policy. The difference between him and the cacophonous charlatan he’s running against is he’s not as loud about it. He is more calculating and diabolical.
The worst part is he seems to actually believe the crazy things he says, whereas Trump's positions change with the wind (Trump used to, for example, be a liberal donor to the Clinton's before becoming a right-wing firebrand). Ordinarily, it is preferred that politicians mean what they say, but in the case of Trump and Cruz, the opposite is true.
While Cruz doesn’t regularly lambast China on national television the way the toupee troglodyte does, he has said the best approach to China is through the emphasis of US military and economic power. He has evoked President Reagan’s Cold War “Peace through strength” for contemporary China affairs, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The Obama-Clinton foreign policy – which was actually quite hawkish – didn’t impress the pugnacious Cruz. He would certainly come into office ready to prove a point.
His domestic policy may seem irrelevant to China, but it does indicate that he’s a religious fanatic, which should be worrisome. For example, he seeks to outlaw abortion outright, even in cases of rape and incest. This is because he is an evangelical Christian of the most extreme variety. According to Ted’s father, he decided to run for president after God spoke to his wife. This would not be of concern to peace loving nations if Cruz focused on the teachings of Jesus, which were mainly of pacifism and alms giving. But Ted and Jesus don’t really align on these policies. Ted instead focuses on the vengeful God of the Old Testament. We should all pray to someone that “God” doesn’t tell Ted to use his newly acquired nuclear arsenal to cleanse the world of its moral decadence that he so despises.
Trump may be a belligerent fool, but he is, above all, a narcissist who loves his own life far too much to end the world in nuclear Armageddon.
Finally, the only Republican alternative to Trump is more frightening because he has a better chance of actually winning the general election in November. Trump is popular in Republican circles, but overall he's the most hated person in the race. So while he's doing great with older, less educated, white men in the Republican primaries, he will likely falter when women, African Americans, Hispanics, and young people come to the polls in the general election. Because with Trump, either you love him or you hate him.
The second most hated person in the race, however, is not Ted Cruz, but Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Since Clinton is so established, people have had more time to grow to hate her. Cruz though, is more of a dark-horse who may sneak up on Clinton simply because not enough voters are familiar with him or his dubious nature.
Hillary Clinton may not be great for China, but it is safe to assume that any Democrat would be preferable to the Republicans who seem intent on torpedoing US/China relations. For China, Hillary is the devil they know, who is preferred to the Republican devil they don't.
As Secretary of State in 2009, Clinton spearheaded the US "pivot to Asia," which is a twenty-first century containment strategy aimed at China, reminiscent of the one employed against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Clinton was also a proponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as Secretary of State until rejecting it is a candidate. The TPP is thought to be another move against China, as it seeks to create further dependency on the US among the smaller Asian countries by reducing tariffs, while excluding China. It is also a direct competitor to China's big economic initiatives like One Belt, One Road. While Clinton did, in the end, come out against it, she has made it clear that she favors some version of a deal.
At the end of the day, Hillary Clinton is a foreign policy hawk. She is likely to slowly but methodically attempt to strengthen or maintain American hegemony anywhere she can, including East Asia.
But even though she may be a wolf in sheep's clothing, she's not much different from any other modern president in her hawkishness, thus making her more predictable. She's a typical status quo politician, making her preferable to Republicans for anyone desiring stability.
But it is still not certain that Hillary will even get the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders, the anti-establishment candidate, is staying in the race with the enthusiastic support of young voters.
Bernie Sanders is the candidate representing people who are fed up with a system where both parties seem aligned in their affinity for war and Wall Street. He is the only candidate that has indefatigably combated Wall Street and the corporate oligarchy his whole career. He's also the only one who is not openly advocating an aggressive use of American military power abroad.
Though many of his policies may be quixotic, his consistency, his genuine care for the workingman as opposed to Wall Street, his record of backing social movements – like Civil Rights and gay rights – before they were popular and his aversion to violent foreign policy solutions make Sanders the most decent human being in the race.
But is he good for China? Not necessarily.
Sanders, like Trump, has made bringing low-skilled manufacturing jobs back to America a cornerstone of his campaign, which certainly does not bode well for Chinese manufacturing.
The good news, however, is that Sanders, unlike Clinton, is not only opposed to the TPP; he's vehemently opposed to it. A Sanders presidency would almost certainly destroy any form of TPP, paving the way for One Belt, One Road.
Moreover, Sanders is the candidate most likely to scale back American hegemony abroad and focus more on domestic issues. This will give China space to expand its sphere of influence in East Asia.
Which candidate is best for China?
None of the remaining candidates are exactly ideal for China – this is America, after all. It is reasonable to assume that the two Republican candidates, with their jingoist rhetoric, would be the worst options for China or any other country for that matter.
So that leaves the Democrats. In terms of geopolitical concerns, the dovish Bernie Sanders would likely be Beijing's preferred candidate, rather than the hawkish foreign policy oriented Hillary Clinton.
In terms of trade, Clinton may be preferred to Sanders, as Sanders looks to bring manufacturing back to America, whereas Clinton is more likely to maintain the status quo. But even in terms of trade, Bernie may be a blessing in disguise, as his isolationist proclivities could make way for Chinese economic initiatives, enhancing its trade with its Asian neighbors.
Either way, this Presidential election, which has gone so far beyond parody in its absurdity, is sure to continue to amuse us. While we here in Asia can continue enjoying Donald Trump`s latest reality TV show for its entertainment value, let`s also hope that the Americans across the Pacific come to realize that the results of this one are far more consequential than those of The Apprentice.