Asia Notebook: ‘We Can Do Business with Trump’

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Asia Notebook: 'We Can Do Business with Trump'

For the past two weeks as a trekked across China, Myan­mar and Thai­land, I have been repeat­edly asked this ques­tion: What do you think of Trump?

Before I answer, I ask the ques­tion­ers, from busi­ness­men to gov­ern­ment offi­cials to tour guides, what THEY think of Trump.

Almost uni­ver­sally, their answer is: We can do busi­ness with Trump!

I admit that my sur­vey is far from sci­en­tific. My data come mainly from edu­cated peo­ple who can speak Eng­lish and often­times are at least mid­dle class. But it’s inter­est­ing when the local taxi dri­vers turn the table on me to ask me questions.

The most telling com­ments I heard came from Hangzhou, the Chi­nese city just south of Shang­hai that hosted the G-​20 con­fer­ence last year. That was the con­fer­ence when Pres­i­dent Obama had to come down the back stairs of Air Force I in which many Amer­i­cans saw as an intended slap in the face of the for­mer leader.

The Chi­nese busi­ness peo­ple I met saw the ges­ture as a pur­pose­ful slight of a naïve and incom­pe­tent leader. They still think it rings true now.

Hillary Clin­ton was seen as even worse than Obama by many Chi­nese because she had come full cir­cle from a pos­i­tive image dur­ing her husband’s pres­i­dency to a neg­a­tive one when Obama’s Asia pivot failed miserably.

These same busi­ness­men see Trump using his nego­ti­at­ing tac­tics to meet the Chi­nese halfway, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to trade and even North Korea. “It’s like Trump points at one piece of prop­erty he wants to buy when he’s actu­ally look­ing at another. It’s the kind of bar­gain­ing we can deal with,” one man­ager told me.

The Asian media aren’t por­tray­ing Trump as the buf­foon the U.S. media like to do. Instead, the Chi­nese media, for exam­ple, have taken a rel­a­tively neu­tral stance toward Trump, includ­ing lim­ited cov­er­age of the mis­sile defense sys­tem being set up in South Korea to counter any threat from the North. More­over, the meet­ing between Pres­i­dents Xi and Trump received pos­i­tive cov­er­age, includ­ing sto­ries about Trump’s grand­daugh­ter singing in Mandarin.

One of the more enter­tain­ing con­ver­sa­tions I had was in Shang­hai with a cou­ple who had immi­grated to Canada from Roma­nia in the 1980s. They had grown so weary of the polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness in our north­ern neigh­bor­hood that they were seri­ously con­sid­er­ing going back home. I guess what attracts some of the left­ists in the United States doesn’t sit so well with peo­ple who had seen actual dic­ta­tor­ships rather than the imag­ined notion of Trump as a dictator.

All told, it’s awfully nice to meet an inter­na­tional array of intel­lec­tual and polit­i­cal fel­low trav­el­ers dur­ing the lat­est chap­ter of my Asia pivot. The view from this side of the Pacific is far rosier than that in the United States.

For the past two weeks as a trekked across China, Myanmar and Thailand, I have been repeatedly asked this question: What do you think of Trump?

Before I answer, I ask the questioners, from businessmen to government officials to tour guides, what THEY think of Trump.

Almost universally, their answer is: We can do business with Trump!

I admit that my survey is far from scientific. My data come mainly from educated people who can speak English and oftentimes are at least middle class. But it’s interesting when the local taxi drivers turn the table on me to ask me questions.

The most telling comments I heard came from Hangzhou, the Chinese city just south of Shanghai that hosted the G-20 conference last year. That was the conference when President Obama had to come down the back stairs of Air Force I in which many Americans saw as an intended slap in the face of the former leader.

The Chinese business people I met saw the gesture as a purposeful slight of a naïve and incompetent leader. They still think it rings true now.

Hillary Clinton was seen as even worse than Obama by many Chinese because she had come full circle from a positive image during her husband’s presidency to a negative one when Obama’s Asia pivot failed miserably.

These same businessmen see Trump using his negotiating tactics to meet the Chinese halfway, particularly when it comes to trade and even North Korea. “It’s like Trump points at one piece of property he wants to buy when he’s actually looking at another. It’s the kind of bargaining we can deal with,” one manager told me.

The Asian media aren’t portraying Trump as the buffoon the U.S. media like to do. Instead, the Chinese media, for example, have taken a relatively neutral stance toward Trump, including limited coverage of the missile defense system being set up in South Korea to counter any threat from the North. Moreover, the meeting between Presidents Xi and Trump received positive coverage, including stories about Trump’s granddaughter singing in Mandarin.

One of the more entertaining conversations I had was in Shanghai with a couple who had immigrated to Canada from Romania in the 1980s. They had grown so weary of the political correctness in our northern neighborhood that they were seriously considering going back home. I guess what attracts some of the leftists in the United States doesn’t sit so well with people who had seen actual dictatorships rather than the imagined notion of Trump as a dictator.

All told, it’s awfully nice to meet an international array of intellectual and political fellow travelers during the latest chapter of my Asia pivot. The view from this side of the Pacific is far rosier than that in the United States.