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Talking Points: Nov. 15-25, 2016 - Trump Election Edition

This issue of Talking Points focuses on the Trump Victory and what this might mean for US-China ties.
November 15, 2016

skip to the calendar | policy options | personnel choices

On January 20, 2017 Donald Trump will become the president of the United States. America’s relationship with China came up repeatedly during his campaign, first with other candidates for the Republican nomination and then in his battle with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. In-depth discussion was rare. We’ll look at what Trump and the Republican party have said in a moment. A quick look, though, at how he won hints at attitudes toward China. 

Illustration from 环球人物 Global People.

About 120 million Americans voted. Hillary Clinton received about 240,000 more votes than Donald Trump. But as many around the world are surprised to learn, the U.S. election is really 51 separate contests with each state’s election carried out according to its own procedures and supervised by its own personnel. In most states and the District of Columbia, electoral college votes are awarded on a winner take all basis. Trump won at least 31 of those contests, taking at least 290 of the available 538 electoral college votes. (In Michigan, Trump has a slight lead and in New Hampshire, Clinton has a slight lead. Their 20 combined electoral college votes won’t change the outcome of the election.) 

Few anticipated this outcome. For example, the last pre-election day analysis by the Associated Press expected Clinton to win fairly easily, with at least 274 electoral college votes and probably well over 300. What pollsters and analysts seem to have missed was the intensity of Trump’s support. Though Clinton outspent Trump in advertising ($376 million to $90 million as of Nov. 5) and in building a get-out-the-vote machine, a larger share of Trump’s supporters went to vote and seem to have encouraged like-minded friends and neighbors to do so as well. This seems to have especially been the case in rust belt states and in places such as Florida and North Carolina. Older white voters were key to Trump’s success, even though they make up a shrinking share of the total electorate. Voters over 45 favored Trump by 53% to 45%. Millennials (age 18 to 35) favored Clinton by an even larger margin, but the vast majority of America’s 69 million millennial citizens did not vote. (Click here for our #MillennialMinds conference.) 

The ugliness of this campaign and the profound “unfavorability” ratings of Clinton and Trump were  highlighted in China’s state-led media, which used it and

Cover of Global People, a People's Daily publication.

Trump’s lack of previous government experience as reasons why democracy is not suited for China. Earlier government-funded videos have celebrated China’s “meritocratic” system highlighting Xi Jinping’s rise from a county-level post to General Secretary of the Communist Party. That video neglects to mention that Xi’s father joined the Party in 1928, was a close ally of Mao’s for decades, and was entrusted by Deng Xiaoping with overseeing the first special economic zone in Shenzhen. State media, however, has repeatedly suggested that Trump’s business pragmatism will cause him to find ways to collaborate for the mutual benefit of the two countries. In reporting Xi’s first post-election conversation with Trump, state media noted Xi said there was “huge potential” in cooperation. Trump’s office said the two “established a clear sense of mutual respect for one another.” 

Policy Options

Trump doesn’t have an especially strong mandate. In this election, only about 26% of the eligible electorate actually bothered to vote for Trump (and a like amount for Clinton). Nearly three out of four eligible voters chose someone else or didn’t vote. Since the election, he’s said he will focus on immigration, healthcare, and jobs. While some Trump projects have been funded through Chinese investors purchasing EB-5 visas, it is his proposal to create jobs through big investments in infrastructure construction that might be important to the U.S.-China relationship.
The president-elect has said that American transportation systems, ports, and other facilities all need rebuilding and upgrading. He has noted that capital is cheap and some of his family’s projects have been funded with wealthy Chinese purchasing EB-5 investment visas. Perhaps there might also be a need for Chinese high-speed rail expertise. Chinese firms (and Japanese) have met with California officials in the past about this. In any event, the Trump infrastructure economic stimulus effort, if it happens (there may be push back from deficit hawks in Congress), would echo what both the United States and China sought to do at the outset of the Global Financial Crisis eight years ago. China put far more into its effort, both through direct budgetary allocation and in ordering state banks to increase lending (up 400%, one reason why China’s corporate debt is now so high), mostly to state-owned firms. As a result of this, China escaped the worst of the downturn (and its strength was a boon to its trading partners, including Japan, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia). Now, though, some analysts worry that China’s relatively large debt burden cloud its economic prospects.
Jonathan Rothwell, a presenter at our recent China Card conference drew on Gallup and other data to profile those who declared themselves Trump supporters. Victor Yuan looked at Chinese perceptions of the candidates and of America. Other presentations at the conference examined the state of the U.S.-China relationship and discussed policy options available to the new administration. The range of issues discussed included economics, security, human rights, environment, global governance, and third-party matters. You can see these presentations at:
Trump on China

Of course China was a sometimes hot topic on the campaign trail in the Trump-Clinton debates. He argued China was “stealing our jobs; they’re beating us in everything; they’re winning, we’re losing.” In September and October, we gathered Trump and Clinton’s China-related debate charges and pledges together along with those made in presidential debates going back to 1960. Click here to read those.  

In the platforms they develop for each presidential race, political parties outline their priorities and the policies they intend to implement. Since the parties are not invented anew each four years, many of their core positions go relatively unchanged from year to year. In the Republican Party platforms excerpted here, there is considerable continuity, particularly in arguing for stability in the Taiwan strait and in stating flatly that if China were to unilaterally upset the status quo and use force against Taiwan, the U.S. would aid Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act (1979). In these documents, the Republican Party emphasizes its interest in trade with China and collaboration when possible, but the Party also insists that American interests are harmed by Chinese currency manipulation, theft of intellectual property, limits on access to the some parts of China's market and tolerance for nuclear weapons proliferation, particularly by North Korea. At various times, the Party will also condemn China's family planning program, restrictions on religious practice, and the treatment of Tibetans and other ethnic minorities. In recent platforms, the Republicans have noted China's military build-up and complained of China's actions in the South China Sea. In the most recent platform, adopted in July 2016, the Republican Party wrote that "China's behavior has negated the optimistic language of our last platform concerning our future relations with China." What followed was a pointed list of actions that the Party takes exception to, including a revival of Maoism. Ultimately, however, the Party calls for continued, but open-eyed, engagement with China, so that Chinese can see "how real democracy works."  Click here to read China-centered excerpts from the Republican 2016 platform (and earlier platforms).

Personnel Choices

To the extent that Trump had a get out the vote effort, it was organized by the Republican National Committee headed by Reince Priebus. On Monday, Trump announced Priebus would be his Chief of Staff. Priebus is close to House Speaker Paul Ryan and has headed the RNC since 2010. Priebus has visited Taiwan several times, including last year when he met with President Ma Ying-jeou and then candidate and now President Tsai Ing-wen. In 2011, Priebus wrote that Chinese ownership of American debt was a problem because, "And at the end of the day, an economy that is controlled by China cannot possibly compete with China."

At the same time Priebus’s appointment was announced, Stephen Bannon, CEO of Trump’s campaign, was named Chief Strategist. Bannon, a former Naval officer, investment banker, and film financier, is best known for his leadership since 2012 of the combative conservative website A couple former Breitbart staffers left the company in 2016, complaining that Bannon had made it into a megaphone for Donald Trump. Former Breitbart spokesman Kurt Bardella told the Washington Post, “Breitbart will now go from being the propaganda arm of the Trump campaign to effectively becoming a state-run medium.” Breitbart headlines on China are typical for the site: “China Meltdown Crushes World Economy” (Jan. 7), “China Smuggles in Vietnamese Child Brides” (April 29), “China Expands Influence in Pakistan by Flooding Markets with Knock Off Goods” (June 1), “China’s ‘Predatory’ Devaluation Exporting Deflation” (July 13), “China to Citizens: Report Parents Who ‘Lure’ Kids into Religion,” (Oct. 15) and “Iran and China Agree to Joint Military Drills, Cooperate Against Terrorism” (Nov. 14). 
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that former federal prosecutor and New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani was Trump’s likely choice as Secretary of State, edging out former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. Giuliani was a fixture in Trump’s campaign, but is not known for his foreign experience. Choosing him may reflect Trump’s desire to focus its international efforts on defeating ISIS. Giuliani’s views on China are not well known. He upset the Chinese government when he met with Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian in New York in 2001. When China’s President Jiang Zemin visited New York in 1997, neither Giuliani nor Republican Governor George Pataki met with him in order to convey opposition to China’s human rights record. 
The selection of Priebus as Chief of Staff has some in the Republican establishment hoping that Trump will pick two of their own for the key positions atop the Departments of State and Defense. They hope Trump will choose Tennessee Senator Bob Corker as Secretary of State. Corker is in his second term as Senator and was previously the mayor of Chattanooga. Before entering public service he ran a construction company. He has visited over 70 countries since joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007. He became committee chair last year. The current Secretary of State, John Kerry, chaired the committee for four years before Barack Obama named him Secretary in 2013. Corker is known for his support of free trade. In 2011 he opposed efforts to sanction China for currency manipulation by putting tariffs on imports from China. His committee will oversee review of the U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty if those negotiations ever produce an agreement. Corker has called for the U.S. Navy to increase its freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. 

Among those reportedly being considered for Secretary of Defense is former Missouri Senator Jim Talent. He is currently in the midst of a two year term on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Commission.  He served in the House of Representatives 1993-2001 and the Senate 2001-2007. He lost to Democrat Claire McCaskill and subsequently worked at the Heritage Foundation and has been on several Defense review committees. He was an advisor to Mitt Romney’s in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. He advised Scott Walker during his brief campaign in 2015. He’s written about the importance of the South China Sea, the rebalancing to Asia, and other issues. He’s argued that much greater investment is needed in order to have a Navy capable of defending U.S. interests in the region.

We'll be following the incoming administrations pronouncements regarding China and East Asia closely.  Thank you for reading and for sharingTalking Points with others.

Please support the USC U.S.-China Institute with a tax-deductible donation. We are eager to continue our efforts to inform public discussion of the multi-threaded and always changing U.S.-China relationship. We need your help.

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The USC U.S.-China Institute
 -- a program of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism


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Screening - Iron Moon
November 17, 2016; 4-6:00 PM 
USC Campus, Wallis Annenberg Hall, ANN 106
Free, please register.
The USC U.S.-China Institute presents a screening of Iron Moon, a documentary following Chinese workers who use poetry as a tool to express the hidden life stories and experiences of people living at the bottom of the society. The film is in Chinese with English subtitles.

November 15, 2016 - 4:00pm
Berkeley, California
The UC Berkeley Center for Chinese Studies welcomes Professor Vivienne Shue analyzing political change in China from a new frame of mind.


Screening - Honor And Duty: The Mississippi Delta Chinese
November 17, 2016 - 7:00pm
Varies cities, California
Honor and Duty: The Mississippi Delta Chinese is a documentary that examines a little known aspect of the Chinese American experience. Writer, director and producer E. Samantha Cheng will be on hand to introduce the film and conduct a Q&A following the screening.

Screening - Mr. Deng Goes to Washington
November 20, 2016 - 2:30pm
La Jolla, California
This riveting documentary tells the story of Deng Xiaoping's historic visit to the U.S. in 1979 that changed the trajectory of U.S.-China relations and the world. The film screening will be followed by conversation about the historical role of Deng and U.S.-China relations post-election.

Muban, Chinese WoodBlock Color Printing
November 21, 2016 - 4:00pm
Los Angeles, California
The UCLA Center for Chinese Studies presents a talk by Wang Chao from the China National Academy of Art and David Barker from Muban Educational.

The Huang Family of Block Cutters: The Thread that Binds Late Ming Pictorial Woodblock Printmaking
November 22, 2016 - 7:30pm
San Marino, California
David Barker, professor of printmaking at the China National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, will consider the important contributions made to Chinese pictorial printing by the famous Huang family of artisan block cutters.

China and Europe in Global Economic History: From Europe's Divergence to China's Convergence
November 15, 2016 - 12:00pm
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies presents a talk by R. Bin Wong, Distinguished Professor of History, UCLA.
What Remains: Coming to Terms with Civil War in 19th century China
November 15, 2016 - 3:30pm
Seattle, Washington
The University of Washington East Asia Center presents a book talk by Professor Tobie Meyer-Fong.
The Family and Demographic Revolutions in Taiwan
November 15, 2016 - 4:00pm
New York, New York
The Columbia University Weatherhead East Asian Institute presents a talk by Ying-Chang Chuang, Academia Sinica as part of their Modern Taiwan Lecture Series.
Film Screening: Stage Sisters
November 26, 2016 - 1:30pm
Washington, D.C.
The Freer|Sackler Museum of Asian Art presents a screening of Stage Sisters.
Film Screening: A Better Tomorrow
November 26, 2016 - 4:00pm
Washington, District of Columbia
The Freer|Sackler Museum of Asian Art presents a screening of John Woo's A Better Tomorrow.
Violence in East Asian Buddhism
November 29, 2016 - 12:00pm
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies presents a talk by Jinhua Chen, Professor of East Asian Buddhism, The University of British Columbia.
Taiwan's Popular Culture and its Impact on China, East Asia, and Beyond
November 29, 2016 - 4:00pm
New York, New York
The Columbia University Weatherhead East Asian Institute presents a talk by Marc Moskowitz, University of South Carolina as part of their Modern Taiwan Lecture Series.