Why Trump's messages resonated with some Chinese migrants

Donald Trump may never have expected the large numbers of supporters he has among Chinese migrant communities all over the world.  But as journalist Portia Mao discovered, his anti-communist and anti-socialist stances strike a chord with many who have left such systems behind, even as they see the challenges the divisive president has presented to a democratic system.  

I’ve often heard it said that the overseas Chinese population was the second-largest group concerned about the outcome of the 2020 American election - apart from Americans.  

America has often been regarded as beacon for freedom and democracy in the worldBut the fact that Trump is disputing the election results, while  Attorney General William Barr has authorized the Department of Justice to investigate any "substantial allegations" of voter fraud in the election is shocking and disappointing to many Chinese migrants, especially those from mainland China.  

Disputes over the election have made some in these communities realise that democracy cannot be taken for granted and the fight for democratic integrity has to be fought everywhere, even in America.  

For some Chinese Kiwis, they care less about who wins. What they do care about is the fairness of the electoral system - whether it can prevent cheating and whether illegal practices in the election will be discovered and punished.  

In their eyes, the democratic system will become a laughingstock if the election system cannot be trusted.  

Linda A, professor at an American university, said she was disappointed to hear any reports of possible election cheating. When she chose to live in the US, it was because she fell in love with the country and was full of confidence in its democratic system – an attitude she has heard echoed by other Chinese migrants.   

Support for Trump in migrant communities 

When it came to election time, Linda A decided to give her vote to Trump, saying we all know what communism and socialism are from our own life experience back in China.” 

“We are quite familiar with things the far-left Democratic people are playing with - the ideology that looks beautiful but has been proven so wrong. Look at North Korea, think about former Soviet Unions, none of the regimes had ever cared about the wellbeing of its own people. " 

She described the race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump as a competition between autocratic socialism and liberal capitalism. 

Here in New Zealand, Donald Trump is a largely unpopular figure. But two Chinese Kiwis I interviewed described themselves as “shy” Trump supporters and dared not show support for Trump because their Kiwi colleagues clearly don’t like him and often make fun of him. One Wellington woman even urged her son not to reveal his stance on Trump in an essay on the American election, for fear he would be punished by his teacher if he was seen as a Trump fan. 

To be honest, I found this quite disturbing. To enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of thoughts is what many people came to New Zealand for.   

Judging from the comments on Chinese social media, one can see clearly that the percentage of Trumps supporters in Chinese migrant communities is quite high.  

But Trump has found support in other communities too – immigrants from countries such as Cuba and Vietnam have shown strong support for Trump and Republicans, with media reports pointing to the leader’s anti-China, anti-communist, and anti-socialist stances as key reasons. For some in these communities, policies and ideas supported by more left-leaning Democrats sound too much like the regimes they left behind.  

Chinese Kiwis and their views

Cindy, a Chinese Kiwi from Beijing, said she trembled whenever she heard the term socialism and opposes any political party advocating for socialism. For someone with Cindy’s experienceit seems absurd for a democratic country to create policies that could push a country down the path to a form of socialism so many migrants have chosen to leave behind.   

Many Chinese migrants fear a Biden presidency has the potential to embrace the kind of socialist policies they have seen fail in China.  

The election results might have been less concerning if Joe Biden didn’t refuse to recognise China as an opponent in a CNN town hall on September 17 while quickly identifying Russia as an “opponent”. In his eyes, China was a “competitor” 

This type of stance from Biden makes many overseas Chinese worry that the next American government may go back to an “appeasement era” with China. 

From an ideological perspective, these migrants wish America to keep their distance from communist China. They believe American is the only superpower that can force China to follow universal values and that is why they choose to support Trump. 

In the Chinese language, America is referred to as a “beacon country”Hopefully, America will keep the torch of global democracy alight no matter who is president.  

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Alice Jiang

- Asia Media Centre