How the U.S. general election will impact U.S. - China relations

Last Sunday night marked the first of three debates between the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the Republican nominee Donald Trump as they tousle for leadership of the free world. The outcome of the election in November will reverberate far beyond US borders, influencing our relationships with our neighbors and trading partners.

An analysis of the two candidates and their attitudes towards China demonstrates another key difference between them. In August, the Carter Center’s China Program and the Georgia China Alliance cohosted “U.S. - China Relations: After the 2016 Presidential Election.” At the conference, Dr. John Garver, Professor Emeritus of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech, stated at the that Trump has only ever mentioned China in relation to putting America first. Trump has tweeted that climate change is a hoax, created ‘by and for the Chinese’.

In this last debate, he sought to put down China at the earliest opportunity.  ‘Look at what China is doing to our country,’ he said in his opening statement. ‘They are using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China.’ Chinese officials and the general population are understandably unimpressed by this open hostility. Trump continually uses the strength of the Chinese economy as a fear tactic, seeking to prove to voters that putting China in its place is a desirable thing, one which he would achieve.

Unfortunately, for those of us who work with China each day, it is clear that a weak China will not equate to a strong America. There is no zero-sum game to be played here. While the bilateral relationship has its fair share of challenges, the great majority of business people, including George Soros, advocate for a strategic partnership between the two. Not to mention, America currently relies on China for a continual supply of all the goods upon which modern life depends – from Apple computers to armchairs. A Trump presidency would create a great rift between the US government and the Chinese politburo, undermining years of diplomatic efforts. Such tension would inevitably extend to East Asia in general, forcing states to choose sides.

If the analysis that followed this debate is to be believed, we will narrowly avoid a Trump presidency and the devastating outcomes it might bring about. Nevertheless, the popularity of such a candidate will be remembered by China and may have lingering effects despite the outcome of the election. For those of us who work with Chinese manufacturers and suppliers, the next few months promise to be a testing time.