A record 84 million viewers in the US watched live on Monday night as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump squared off in their first debate. At the same time, on the other side of the world, some diehards also tuned in to watch democracy in action, despite muddled attempts at government censorship.
An official Beijing directive issued on Monday, obtained by China Digital Times, instructed Chinese news services not to offer livestreams of the US presidential debate, adding that any streams which had already started should be “immediately terminated.”
So, with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter also blocked in China, it was a bit difficult for many Chinese to follow the first of three debates between the two candidates. State media was also less than helpful in providing coverage, here’s how Quartz describes the experience of watching the debate on CCTV:
CCTV, the state broadcaster, used a fearsome photo to advertise its live-stream on Weibo (all links below in Chinese, registration required) and promised up close coverage, then mostly just showed a reporter wandering the media center of the debate venue. The debate is a fight “between the two most unwelcome American politicians,” CCTV said on the livestream, then went black shortly after the debate began.
And yet, many netizens did manage to watch the debate on livestreams elsewhere on the Chinese internet. One livestream on Weibo remains up and has over 45,000 likes and nearly 15,000 comments. In an editorial published earlier today, the nationalistic tabloid, the Global Times, even mentions that “many Chinese media,” including Ifeng, Caixin and iqiyi.com broadcast the debate live on Tuesday morning to an “entertained” Chinese crowd.
Those that did tune in found that they were one of the main topics of conversations during the 90 minute debate. The two candidates brought up “China” 12 times — with frequent China-sayer Donald Trump leading the way with nine mentions. On stage, Trump began the night be repeating the same attacks against China that he has made throughout his campaign, accusing China of stealing American jobs and manipulating its own currency — despite the fact that in 2015, the International Monetary Fund declared that the renminbi was no longer undervalued.
Trump also made a confusing accusation that China was using the US as its own personal “piggy bank,” and seemed to nonchalantly suggest that China ought to go ahead and invade North Korea:
You look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea. China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea.
Yesterday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson responded to Trump’s suggestion by saying that China “has been working with the goal of upholding peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton accused Trump of believing that “climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.” Trump denied having said that, apparently forgetting about an infamous Tweet he made in 2012 that still hasn’t been deleted:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
In the past, Chinese netizens (along with Chinese mask and toilet paper makers) have been vocally pro-Trump, even reasoning that the outspoken candidate doesn’t really mean all the vicious things he often says about China. However, his China-bashing rhetoric did provoke some unpleasantness from netizens watching on Weibo, who called him a “bastard” and a “fraud.” “Trump says that we steal American jobs, but isn’t he the one who gave them to us?” wrote one netizen.
Still, China likes his opponent even less. A Global Times poll from May found that 83% of Chinese netizens prefer “unclear” Trump to “evil” Clinton. “Every time that Clinton opens her mouth, lies come spilling out, I hope the American people can understand,” one web user commented.
According to Quartz, one Weibo user summed up the debate like this: “A quarrel between a grandpa and a granny can’t make things clear. The better solution for them is to pull each others’ hair.”
Following the debate, the Global Times published one editorial titled “Trump shows ignorance on China” picking apart the candidates many attacks on China, as well as another opinion piece called “Clinton-Trump debate falls into trite format,” which concluded that:
Chinese do not want to see China pressured by Clinton, and meanwhile are uncertain of Trump’s presidency. Let Americans worry about who will end up in the White House. Chinese should be ready for the change in the US presidency. We have many tools to respond, enough for the future US president to feel the dread if it makes trouble with China. Such tools matter more than the goodwill of American presidents.
There’s still two more debates to go — on October 9th and 19th — before the election on November 8th. If you’re an American expat living in China and haven’t registered to vote yet, do so now.