Donald Trump’s indictments have spurred incredulity and ridicule in China, and strengthened Chinese state narratives of the US in decline.
Then-US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in 2019 [Susan Walsh/AP Photo]
In the hazy maze of Chinese politics, the fastest-rising stars can quickly and inexplicably fall to earth.
That happened to China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who was removed suddenly after less than six months on the job and after weeks of being conspicuously absent from public view.
What exactly led to the minister’s removal last month is still a mystery, said Samantha Xie, who closely follows Chinese politics.
But even more baffling for Xie than a Chinese minister’s secretive removal was the inability of a political system to rid itself of a politician who was clearly involved in wrongdoing, namely former US President Donald Trump.
“How is it that a guy like Donald Trump is able to stay on as a presidential candidate in the US after everything we know he has done?” Xie asked, speaking from Wuxi city near Shanghai.
The 42-year-old sales manager told Al Jazeera that she found it inexplicable that after four criminal indictments, Trump’s popularity in the US does not appear to have suffered.
Xie is not alone in being surprised by Trump’s indictments and his continued popularity as a frontrunner in the forthcoming US presidential election.
China’s state media has spotted the anomaly too, which has been portrayed as symptomatic of broader dysfunction in the US political and legal systems.
Following Trump’s first indictments, China’s state-run Global Times wrote in March that US “political and legal tools” were being “weaponized to attack political opponents”, a situation that the news organisation said would sow more chaos in an already polarised society.
Under the heading “systemic dysfunction”, the newspaper added that politics and law in the US had “become more like a child’s game with mounting stunts, and more dramatic twists” to be expected.
The enduring support for Trump also revealed, Global Times said, that US society had failed to learn from the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Political chaos and social disintegration in the US were themes addressed by China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency in its coverage of Trump’s legal woes in April.
Increasingly bitter partisanship revealed that the pursuit and defence of Trump was a reflection of deep divisions in US society, Xinhua reported, where “people are increasingly divided in ideas, interests, races and cultures”.
Republicans and Democrats – and their supporters – have “become increasingly irreconcilable on many issues, thus giving birth to all kinds of incredible chaos”, Xinhua added.
The apparent dysfunction observed in the very fabric of US society and exemplified in Trump’s legal woes spurred Global Times in an editorial to accuse the US of tarnishing “the word ‘democracy’”.
US party politics was responsible for everything from political violence to political polarisation, Global Times said, and from “rampant money politics” to free speech “being in name only”. All of which was the political soil out of which a figure such as Trump had grown, Global Times said.
Trump’s indictments were the cause, the symptoms and the catalyst for the political unravelling of the US, according to recent news reports, all of which play into a long-established Chinese state narrative of the US being in terminal decline.
‘Comrade Nation Builder’
On Chinese social media platforms, however, Trump’s legal troubles have inspired jokes, memes and a hilarious short video that has attracted 1.4 million views in just a few months.
Following his indictments in March and April, comments began appearing on the Weibo platform referring to Trump as “Jiangou”, a Chinese name that translates directly as “build the country/nation”.
While the name has been interpreted as a reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, in China the Jiangou title has been applied as a joke to portray Trump’s antics as hurting the US and its international image and, as a result, strengthening China’s stature on the world stage.
Trump, the joke goes, is a “nation builder”, but for China, not the US.
A manipulated image of former US President Donald Trump shows him living a simple life in retirement in China after his efforts to make China great through his antics in US politics [Screengrab/Weibo]
“Comrade Nation Builder [Trump], whether in the police station or in the courts, you must endure,” one post on Weibo exclaimed.
“We are waiting for you to retire and return to watch the sunset together with us” in China, the post added.
The post on China’s Weibo platform was accompanied by a video featuring cleverly manipulated images of Trump living in retirement in China, where he is featured doing traditional tai chi exercises, shopping in markets for his groceries, eating at a local restaurant, and being hailed on a metro train by young Chinese people who are happy to see the ex-US president.
A manipulated image showing Trump retired and living in China where he enjoys popular appeal and public recognition [Screengrab/Weibo]
The video was set to the tune of a famous Chinese song, “Red Sunset” by Tong Tie Xin, in which the singer praises the beauty of the sunset – lyrics which imply that Trump can look back on a job well done – for China – as he reaches the sunset years of his life.
“He might be American, but his heart is Chinese,” one Weibo user joked in the comments under the video.
“Your last mission, come back safely [to China],” another user wrote.