Wednesday, December 14, 2016
For China’s State Media, Trump Victory Can’t Cure the ‘American Disease’
BEIJING — Donald J. Trump isn’t Mr. Popular in Beijing lately. But China’s ruling elite seems to be consoling itself with the idea that the American president-elect will take charge of a country staggering into decline and disunion.
A flow of articles in Communist Party publications in recent weeks has argued that the United States’ tumultuous past year showed it to be dysfunctional and dissolute, and blighted by corruption, social and political polarization, reckless debt and an enfeebled news media.
“Can an American Dream sick with the American Disease last for long?” read a headline in the latest issue of Red Flag Papers, a party journal that has enjoyed renewed prominence in recent years.
“America’s political problems have long been the instigator of its other problems,” said the accompanying essay, by a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, one of the government’s main think tanks.
“The clear and unequivocal slide in the public’s belief in the ‘American Dream’ directly reflects their lack of optimism in the country’s future and their own prospects,” wrote the researcher, Liu Weidong. “The American political system that once was their greatest pride has constantly proven powerless to restrain the despicable conduct of incompetent politicians.”
Some of the comments appeared before Mr. Trump irked the Chinese government by having a phone call with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, and then throwing into doubt his adherence to the longstanding One China policy. The Chinese government says that policy, which keeps Taiwan diplomatically isolated, is a bedrock of relations with Washington.
A spokesman for the Chinese government’s Taiwan Affairs Office reinforced that warning on Wednesday.
“If this basis suffers from meddling and destruction, then the healthy and stable development of Sino-American relations is out of the question, and the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait will suffer a serious impact,” the spokesman, An Fengshan, told a news conferencein Beijing. The strait is the body of water between Taiwan and mainland China.
Dim views of America’s prospects are, of course, not only found in China. The rancorous election and Mr. Trump’s victory have stirred up plenty of gloomy commentary from critics on the left and the right in the United States as well as around the world. And even before Mr. Trump’s victory, the Chinese state news media used the election to argue that the United States was a political mess that showed why one-party rule was right for China.
But these postelection jeremiads suggest that researchers and ideologues who shape and reflect official Chinese views of the United States put little store in Mr. Trump’s vow to “make America great again.”
In China, there has for years been debate between researchers who see the United States as in decline and those who believe that the country’s strength and capacity for renewal remain formidable. The first view is more prevalent now, especially as President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012, has focused intensely on what he sees as the threat from Western liberal values.
“Mainstream Chinese views of the United States have shifted from admiration to doubt, especially after the financial crisis, and now increasingly to rejection of its values,” Shi Yinhong, the director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, said in an interview.
“Among elite scholars, fewer and fewer voice awe of the United States,” Mr. Shi said. “Trump’s victory, like ‘Brexit,’ is seen as an opportunity for the official media to teach the public they have no reason to envy the West.”
People’s Daily, the chief newspaper of the Communist Party, has for the past three Sundays devoted one of its broadsheet pages to dissecting America’s maladies.
“Currently, America is facing major domestic reforms that require someone who is farsighted and shrewd,” said an article in the first part of the series, which was published in late November along with three other articles on the same theme.
“Is Trump the man for this? People have different views,” said the writer, Ye Zicheng, a professor at Peking University. “Many Americans worry whether their leader is up to the task. If not, doesn’t that mean that America’s domestic political decline will worsen?”
The second part of the series excoriated the American news media, including The New York Times, for failing to anticipate and explain Mr. Trump’s rise, especially among blue-collar voters.
“It’s difficult for such a media to reflect the realities of America,” read one commentary in that issue. “How much it can contribute to the development of American democracy is also doubtful.”
The latest in the series argued that Mr. Trump’s policies would take the United States’ already dangerous budget deficit to even more perilous heights.
“It will be hard to avoid a snowballing increase in debt levels,” one of the articles said. “Without doubt, the American government’s debt situation is unsustainable.”
There is some irony in all this — not least, in a heavily censored party-run paper that faithfully echoes official views scolding the American news media for failing to take on the powerful.
China’s own problems with debt have also raised alarm with investors, and Mr. Xi’s crackdown on official corruption has revealed levels of plunder that have no equivalent in Washington. And while Chinese politicians like to criticize the United States, they also often send their children there to study. Mr. Xi’s own daughter, for example, attended Harvard.
How long and intensely the criticism persists will depend on Mr. Trump’s policies after he takes office, said Qiao Mu, a liberal commentator and researcher at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
“They always have two faces. One is talking up the friendship between China and the United States, but there is also the criticism and suspicion of America and its political system,” Mr. Qiao said. “When a leader is preparing to visit, there’ll always be upbeat reports.”