The United States, China’s largest trading partner but also its greatest geopolitical rival, faces an election that threatens domestic instability. A Donald Trump victory would confirm to many Chinese the inherent weakness of American democracy. A Hillary Clinton victory, on the other hand, would force Beijing to deal with a politician widely viewed as unfriendly, and sometimes even hostile, to Chinese interests.
One might think that China would therefore welcome a Trump presidency. Yet conversations over the past six months with roughly half-a-dozen mid-ranking and high-ranking Chinese officials, as well as with sources afforded insight into the thinking of top Chinese policymakers, show that many in the Chinese political class grudgingly support Clinton — precisely because they believe a Trump presidency would be a disaster for the United States. Although on their face, many of Trump’s economic, political, and military policies would be far more beneficial to China than Clinton’s, the Chinese elite seem to prefer Trump’s opponent because they feel she would be better for the United States, its place in the world, and thus global stability, which remains of great importance to Beijing.