- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2016

China’s state media have called him “bigmouthed” and a “clown,” although polls and Internet chat sites show many ordinary Chinese respect his business acumen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has heaped praise on him, and other Russians think he will take a less ideology-driven approach than President Obama — or Hillary Clinton — toward Moscow.

The Iranians are still trying to figure him out.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s pugnacious proclamations on foreign policy — including NATO, nuclear proliferation and a border wall with Mexico — have sparked reactions ranging from curiosity to outrage among U.S. allies.

But his unorthodox policy positions are also producing a range of reactions among Washington’s potential rivals, as government officials and analysts in countries such as China, Russia and Iran are also scrambling to make sense of the U.S. political earthquake that brought Mr. Trump to the fore and trying to gauge how seriously to take his various comments about them.

Perhaps the most ambivalent reaction has been from Iran.

While state media outlets often refer to him as “crazy Trump,” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, along with the government of President Hassan Rouhani, have gone out of their way to avoid commenting on the Republican candidate.

In a paradoxical twist, the nation’s anti-American hard-liners seem to be relishing the prospect of a Trump White House because — like them — Mr. Trump says the nuclear accord that the Obama administration and other world powers reached with Tehran last summer was disastrous.

“The wisest plan of crazy Trump is tearing up the nuclear deal,” Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the hard-liner newspaper Kayhan, recently told Iran’s Fars News Agency.

According to the Washington-based publication Al-Monitor, Mr. Shariatmadari went on to describe the deal as a “golden document” for the U.S. that has caused nothing but “damages, humiliation and deception.”

Mr. Trump has sent mixed signals to Iran by denouncing the nuclear deal and by accusing Tehran of violating its terms. He also harshly criticized the treatment of U.S. sailors briefly seized by Iranian forces in January.

But he also has suggested that he would not tear up the deal, as Republican rivals such as Ted Cruz have promised, but to enforce it so strictly that it would constrain any Iranian misbehavior.

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, who blogs on Iranian affairs for The Guardian, said recently that Mr. Trump is “viewed with much amusement in Iran,” if only because his “rhetoric and inflammatory statements remind many of their former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

Praise from Russia

While Iranians struggle to take measure of Mr. Trump, the president of Russia has given him a major nod of approval — even before the candidate’s proclamation in March that NATO is essentially obsolete.

It was in December when Mr. Putin told reporters after an annual press conference that he saw Mr. Trump as “a very colorful and talented man.” The billionaire developer had said he admired Mr. Putin’s decisiveness and predicted that he could develop a better personal relationship with the Russian president than Mr. Obama has.

Mr. Trump “says that he wants to move to another level of relations, to a deeper level of relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that?” Mr. Putin said at one point.

Mr. Trump seemed eager to polish his position on Russia during his major foreign policy speech last month by saying that “an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia” are possible, but only from “a position of strength.”

“If we can’t make a good deal for America,” Mr. Trump said, “we will quickly walk away from the table.”

The previous day, a top Russian official said Mr. Trump appeared more pragmatic than either Mr. Obama or former President George W. Bush in his approach to Russia.

“He expresses readiness to come to terms with the Russian president instead of making conflicts with us, the way today’s administration is doing,” Alexey Pushkov, chairman of the Russian State Duma’s foreign policy committee, told the Izvestia newspaper.

Trump looks less ideology-stricken in general than Obama,” Mr. Pushkov said. “He is a businessman, and he views everything as a succession of transactions. That’s far from a bad approach if you compare it with the ideologized, fundamentalist approach of the Bush and Obama administrations that can ruin the life of whole regions and many peoples for the sake of liberalistic chimeras and faked values.”

China and Trump

From the onset of his rise toward the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump has made something of a sport out of hurling insults and criticism at Beijing, claiming that America has been “ripped off” by the flight of U.S. manufacturing to a China that continues to pursue unfair trade practices to steal jobs from working-class Americans.

U.S. leaders, he said, are too stupid to recognize how Beijing’s wily masters are exploiting them. For good measure, Mr. Trump has publicly mused on letting Japan, China’s historical rival for supremacy in East Asia, procure a nuclear bomb.

China, it would seem, has no use for Mr. Trump. Or does it?

For all his vitriol on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump is apparently far from hated in China, where government officials and ordinary people vacillate between outrage and entertainment from the billionaire’s success and his ability to confound the American foreign policy establishment.

Mr. Trump’s theatrical posturing toward China and Asia first made headlines last summer, when he said Chinese President Xi Jinping deserved a McDonald’s hamburger rather than a White House state dinner. During a campaign rally, he faked an East Asian accent, barking, “We wan deal,” as he mocked how Chinese and Japanese businesses view the U.S.

More recently, Mr. Trump has peppered his comments with what might be read as actual policy proposals.

He told The New York Times in January that he would favor a 45 percent tariff on Chinese exports to the U.S., a proposal that many American economists warn would violate international rules and likely trigger a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

C. Fred Bergsten, a senior fellow and director emeritus of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, told a panel discussion recently that U.S. law would prevent Mr. Trump from raising tariffs by more than 15 percent for five months without declaring a national security emergency.

“All right, he might do that,” Mr. Bergsten said, adding that whatever Mr. Trump does, the Chinese would find ways to retaliate beyond lodging a case against Washington through the World Trade Organization.

Mr. Trump has heightened his anti-China rhetoric in recent weeks. At a May 3 campaign rally in Indiana, he said “we can’t allow China to rape our country” through “the greatest theft in the history of the world.” Mr. Trump handily won the state’s primary.

His comments also struck a nerve in China, where they became the fourth most discussed topic on the Chinese Twitter equivalent Weibo, Politico reported.

It’s not clear whether ordinary Chinese people, who have grown used to the antics of outsized billionaires as the country’s economy has exploded in recent decades, are angered by Mr. Trump’s claims.

Politico cited a late March poll of 3,330 readers of China’s state-run Global Times newspaper that found 54 percent of respondents support a Trump presidency.

“Many Chinese,” Politico said, “believe [Mr. Trump‘s] business acumen would translate into political pragmatism on matters of national security and foreign policy — which would play to China’s advantage.”

Dingding Chen, an instructor at the University of Macau and founder of the Intellisia Institute, a new independent China-based foreign policy think tank, said Mr. Trump also benefits among China’s vast Web user community from the contrast with likely Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, who has a long record of criticizing China’s human rights record and its treatment of women in particular.

“For many Chinese netizens, a President Trump, if elected, would be soft on China’s human rights issues, which is just fine for U.S.-China relations,” Mr. Chen wrote recently in The Diplomat.

The popular view stands in contrast to official statements, with the Chinese government, which is clearly unnerved about Mr. Trump’s comments on trade and tariffs.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters after Mr. Trump clinched enough Indiana delegates for the nomination that Chinese officials have “no comment on what is happening now with the election.”

But, Mr. Hong said, it is “worth pointing out that mutual benefit and win-win results are defining features of economic cooperation and trade between China and the U.S., and meet the common interests of both. We hope the U.S. people from all walks of life would view bilateral relations from a reasonable and objective perspective.”

An unsigned March 14 editorial in the Global Times argued that Mr. Trump’s rise could be explained only by a Republican election strategy that has gone horribly wrong.

“His job was basically to act as a clown to attract more voters’ attention to the GOP. However, knocking down most other promising candidates, the clown is now the biggest dark horse,” the editorial said. “Bigmouthed, anti-traditional, abusively forthright, he is a perfect populist that could easily provoke the public.”

It went on to note that “Mussolini and Hitler came to power through elections” and to warn that “the U.S. had better watch itself for not being a source of destructive forces against world peace, more than pointing fingers at other countries for their so-called nationalism and tyranny.”


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