BEIJING (Reuters) - He may be a divisive figure back home, but U.S. President Donald Trump will be landing in friendly territory when he arrives in Beijing on Wednesday, judging by Chinese social media.
On platforms such as the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, Trump’s Chinese supporters, who admire his business success and a free-wheeling style unconstrained by political correctness, are far more prominent than detractors.
While no comprehensive survey has been done to assess the size and intensity of Trump’s popularity in China, several pundits suggest he has broad and vocal support.
“Chinese people are impressed that he is extremely rich, he loves things splendid and magnificent, and he loves to show off. Not every billionaire is like that,” said Yin Hao, who translates American news and comedy clips for his nearly one million followers on Weibo.
Yin said his translated Trump-related video clips sometimes attract thousands of comments, where some supporters engage in name-calling and invective in defending the president.
“They will keep posting comments to defend Trump, mock his opponents under all news clips that involve Trump, and rebuke any comments that are not in favour of Trump,” Yin said.
Chen Jibing, a Shanghai-based political commentator, said Trump’s Chinese fan base is different than that for previous foreign leaders such as his predecessor, Barack Obama, and for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who enjoyed widespread but tepid support.
“Chinese Trump fans are seriously and truly invested, and you had better not make light of offending them,” Chen wrote in a social media post to his millions of followers.
While Trump encountered protests during his visits to Japan and South Korea on the first two legs of his 12-day Asian tour, such scenes are unlikely in China, which tightly controls public gatherings, with media and the internet subject to censorship.
China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said Trump will receive a “state visit-plus” experience in Beijing. He is expected to go to the Forbidden City and participate in an inspection of Chinese troops, though China has released few other details.
Trump’s popularity in China largely comes from his disdain for political correctness and defiance of traditional liberal western views, which many Chinese consider elitist and unrealistic, Chen said.
His criticism of the U.S. trade deficit with China, for example, is seen by many in the country as standard U.S. political talk, some pundits say.
“In China, realists hold a deep-rooted belief that the rule of the jungle means the strong prey on the weak,” Chen said. “For them, the world is not split into right and wrong, good or evil, it is only success or failure, the powerful and the weak.”
Factual errors or gaffes by Trump tend to be ignored by his Chinese fans or explained away as harmless mistakes made by a leader who writes his own rules.
In Japan on Monday, Trump told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the Japanese economy was not performing as well as the United States’ and appeared to mistakenly say that Japan’s economy was the world’s second-largest. It is actually third, after China’s.
An editor at a major state publication told Reuters was inclined to be forgiving about Trump’s remark to Abe: “He’s a free spirit. No one can tell him what to do.”
Many on Chinese social media see Trump as a figure of fun.
“Rather than being a president, Trump is more like a comedian!” one Weibo user wrote.
In a country where parents are traditionally judged by the success of their children, Trump scores extra points for his daughter Ivanka, a businesswoman and currently advisor to President Trump, and her Mandarin-speaking children.
One Chinese state publication said that all five of Trump’s children are a testament to his character.
“You can tell what parents are like through their childrens’ success. Trump’s five children are all excellent, it means he is a very successful father,” the China Education Daily said on its social media account.
Ivanka Trump is sometimes referred to as “goddess” on Chinese social media, where some were upset that the first daughter would not be accompanying her father to Beijing.
“SAD! Ivanka is not coming to China,” said Jiang Xiaofeng, a journalist with Phoenix TV on Sina Weibo, appropriating one of Donald Trump’s favourite Twitter exclamations.
Reporting by Pei Li and Christian Shepherd; Editing by Tony Munroe and Bill Tarrant