By several measures this has been a tumultuous year for global politics, from chaos in the Middle East and government crises in South America to Brexit and simmering international tension. Naturally, the United States had to grab the spotlight, producing one of the most extraordinary and unexpected electoral results in history.
Donald Trump, a businessman and Washington outsider, has secured the White House. Many Western media outlets, particularly those of a liberal persuasion such as The New Yorker and The Guardian, have dramatically denounced the result as a dark day for American democracy. However, is this fair analysis? The views offered from a sample of Chinese media and some of its representatives, despite acknowledging grave problems in the United States, appear less damning.
This election, by general consensus in both the West and China, has been notoriously peculiar and divisive. The Global Times editorial piece underlined the current strain in American society: "Some say the election is a 'political revolt' and a U.S.-style 'cultural revolution.' Though exaggerated, these labels somewhat reflect the current U.S. political landscape."
It asserted that the two major U.S. political parties—the Democrats and Republicans—"have lost touch with the times." Li Yang, a reporter with China Daily, told Beijing Review, "The enormous contrast between the two candidates epitomizes a much divided American society." Hillary Clinton symbolizes the political and media establishment, while Trump symbolizes the underdog alternative.
Xu Qingduo, a producer with China Radio International, admitted that the result stunned most of the Chinese media in much the same way as it did in the United States. He attributed the result to the failure of the American establishment to take Trump's campaign seriously and the economic malaise that has hit ordinary U.S. citizens.
He told Beijing Review, "His message is actually quite representative of the anger, disappointment and dissatisfaction of certain sections of American society in terms of their job security and stagnant living standards, in terms of this widening gap between rich and poor. He represents those left behind by globalization over the past decades."
A similar explanation was given by Wu Ting, Managing Director of the international news desk of Thepaper.cn. He expressed surprise at the result, saying that "political elites in Washington ignored the unexpected level of frustration among Americans that manifested on election day."
While Chinese media has largely focused on the economic problems underpinning public discontent in America, Xu also noted Trump's lack of political correctness may have "resonated with some sections of society tired of the issue," within a country that "very much emphasizes political correctness." Ultimately, a plethora of factors driven by economic stagnation, including those aforementioned, have led to this outcome.
And so, what is the Chinese perception of American—and by some extension Western—governance? Considering China's trajectory of opening up to the world and the contemporary digital age of globalization, this election has almost certainly garnered more attention from the Chinese than any before it.
Trump's victory has been held up as a severe dent to, or even the death knell of, liberal democracy in some circles: the culmination of a poor, scandal-heavy, policy-light electoral process that produced a "winner" who has never held public office.
The Global Times concluded that "Trump's win has dealt a heavy blow to the heart of U.S. politics. At the very beginning, he was despised by mainstream U.S. media... But if such a person can be president, there is something wrong with the political order." The sentiment was echoed by Xu, who told Beijing Review, "[the American people] elected someone who mainstream society would feel is unacceptable to hold public office, so there's something wrong with the procedure or the system."
He added that for the Chinese it's really about the outcome rather than the method: "Yes, the political system matters, but it's more about the delivery, the governance. If you look at the Obama administration, if there was effective delivery, people probably would not have been so dissatisfied with the status quo."
Whether this result can be put down to a system failure or a necessary shakeup of the Washington establishment will be significantly determined by Trump's record as president.
In terms of the future, Wu said it was too early to determine how China-U.S. relations would be affected, but emphasized the importance of the bilateral relationship that "[no] wise leader would risk destabilizing... Chinese people are in favor of American leaders with pragmatic and cooperative attitudes toward China." Will history prove Trump to be such a leader?
Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan
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