Chin is also an unapologetic cheerleader for Trump, whom he calls a “hero,” and he is far from alone. This city lies at the forefront of the global fight for democracy, a place where protesters have for more than a year stood against Beijing’s attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy, free press, and liberal institutions. Yet support for the president—whose own assault on democratic norms, gushing over the Tiananmen Square massacre, on-again, off-again praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping, initial lukewarm support of Hong Kong’s protest movement, and self-admitted slow-rolling of sanctions over Xinjiang’s mass-detention camps in favor of a trade deal—remains stronger in some quarters than for his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.
These feelings are not unique to Hong Kong. Though reviled in much of Europe for his rhetoric about migrants, his questioning of NATO, and his friendliness toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump has earned credit in parts of Asia for his hawkishness toward Beijing, which supporters argue has not just shifted Washington’s own position, but has also emboldened other countries around the world.
In Vietnam, where anti-Chinese sentiment is rife, a vocal pro-Trump faction cheered his first, chaotic debate performance on social media. Republicans’ staunch anti-Communist positions have long found an accepting audience among Vietnamese Americans. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Trump has seen support in the Philippines—a country that has a Trump-like leader (albeit one who has openly courted China)—as have members of that country’s diaspora in America. Indeed, Vietnam and the Philippines, both countries that have seen a more hostile position from Beijing in the South China Sea, are two of a small number of countries whose people were positive on Trump and his policies, according to polling conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2017. Deeper ties with Taiwan, including a flurry of weapons sales, as well as a distrust of Biden, have also bolstered Trump’s standing in Taiwan, making him the favorite there. There are even a number of Chinese liberal intellectuals who openly support the president, with “absolute, heartfelt admiration, adoration, and idolization,” Yao Lin, a student at Yale Law School, wrote in a May paper exploring the topic. Many of them have undergone “a Trumpian metamorphosis,” he wrote, noting that the phenomenon is “curious because it defies the conventional (and convenient) narrative in which China’s pro-reform, pro-liberal-democracy, pro-universal-values intellectuals fight relentlessly against injustice, authoritarianism and narrow-minded nationalism.”
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In Hong Kong, it is unclear just how widespread support of Trump is. Polling conducted for Newsweek in July by Redfield & Wilton Strategies of 1,000 Hong Kongers found that respondents narrowly favored Trump to win the 2020 election, by a margin of 36 percent to 33 percent for Biden. A YouGov poll this month, however, found Biden having a slight edge over Trump. Chin and his viewers are in many ways emblematic of the city’s Trump-supporting bloc. Though he has never reached the international recognition obtained by activists like Joshua Wong, Chin retains a considerable following of devoted adherents and a sizable online presence. Following Trump’s election in 2016, Chin published The Trump Strategy, a book that analyzed the president’s dealings with China. Last year, when enormous protests erupted in Hong Kong, Chin urged his supporters to carry Trump flags and wear Trump gear to protests as punitive legislation targeting Hong Kong was making its way through Washington, playing to the president’s oversize ego and hoping to “catch his eye.” Chin told me he was drawn to Trump’s rhetoric on the economic risk China poses to the world, and used Hong Kong as an example of what he saw as state capture accomplished through Chinese state-owned enterprises—snatching up newspapers and swaths of real estate since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997—as the type of threat Trump was sounding the alarm against.