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.