HONG KONG—Reaction to that part of John Bolton’s upcoming memoir where he says Donald Trump asked Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping for help in the next presidential election has been muted in China itself. The underlying sentiment is that nothing was done, and nothing needed to be done, in answer to Trump’s rather pitiful plea, and little or no comment is necessary now.
Authorities in Beijing have for years thought it likely that with or without their help American voters would cast enough ballots for the tweeter-in-chief to remain in the Oval Office, and they’re perfectly happy with that.
Chinese news reports about Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened, mostly mention undefined “explosive details” that embarrass Trump, hinting that he may have compromised American national security repeatedly, but they do not specify what those details are or why they’re important.
Conspicuously absent from virtually all reports is Trump’s conversation with Xi at the G20 Summit last year, where Bolton says the U.S. president suggested Xi’s control over China’s economic power could help sway the 2020 election in Trump’s favor. Instead, the focus is on the Trump administration’s flailing attempts to halt the book’s sale and circulation.
News coverage in China bundles this personal account by a former high-level White House official with plans for a tell-all by the president's estranged niece Mary Trump to hit bookshelves this summer. The stories shape the narrative that people close to Donald Trump are turning on him, that the American system has failed—but that is because he was chosen by the people, and now people in the U.S. and everywhere else have to live with that choice.
Another very important subtext is that China under the presidency of Xi Jinping will emerge from the contretemps with Trump, however long it lasts, looking more than ever like the great world leader of the 21st century.
Trump first showed Beijing how he would buckle under pressure after he started the trade war nearly two years ago. Despite Trump’s series of tariffs on Chinese imports, China’s 2018 trade surplus with the U.S. ran at a record $323.3 billion, cratering domestic manufacturing output in the U.S. to levels that were the lowest in a decade.
Beijing also sees that America’s major European allies—the United Kingdom, France, and Germany—now have strained relations with Washington under Trump. If China’s goal is to upend the global order, not merely in economic terms but also on political grounds, then four more years of Trump can only benefit its trajectory.
Xi Jinping is hunting for a legacy that will keep his name in his party’s history books for generations. With Trump on the other side of the Pacific, seated in the highest office in Washington but functioning as a walking power vacuum, the CCP leader has plenty of space to make bold moves.
On Tuesday, Chinese jets flew into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone for the third time in a week. In the South China Sea, American and Chinese warships routinely come close to colliding, at times cruising by each other with just 100 meters between them. A national security law designed by Beijing to tighten its grip on Hong Kong was put before China’s legislative organ Thursday. Even though its details still have not been shared with the public or the city’s top officials, the law’s implementation will be fast-tracked soon.
In the Korean Peninsula, after Pyongyang blew up a liaison office that is the site for talks with the south, Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister, is cranking up the DPRK for military action. But as Bolton revealed, Trump’s idea of engagement with North Korea is to gift its dictator with an Elton John “Rocket Man” CD bearing his own autograph. The Kim dynasty looks to China as its greatest benefactor and their only globally influential ally.
On the other side of the country, a brawl between soldiers along the border involving rocks and barbed wire wrapped around clubs left 20 Indians dead and an unknown number of casualties on the Chinese side, 14,000 feet above sea level, just a day after Chinese media said border tensions had deescalated.
And when Trump said in May that the U.S. will end its relationship with the World Health Organization—while enacting policies that have made a deadly pandemic even deadlier—be sure that China, the second largest economy in the world, will fill the void that is in the shape of Trump’s silhouette.
If there is any doubt that Beijing and China’s nationalistic supporters believe that four more years of Donald “MAGA” Trump will benefit the CCP’s rise, consider this: Trump’s transliterated Chinese name, Chuanpu, has been adapted to Chuan Jianguo—a patriotic name that literally means “to build a nation.” The joke, even though no one’s laughing, is that Trump, as president of the United States of America, is doing more than anyone else on the planet to make China great again—just by staying in “the room where it happens.”