Censored Chinese Liberals Admire Trump’s “No-Filter Approach to Free Speech”

(p. A27) People like the Hong Kong-based media tycoon Jimmy Lai think a return of the Washington consensus would be a mistake. A fervent supporter of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, Mr. Lai is also a staunch Trump supporter.

“Biden will try to make progress through trade-offs, but that hasn’t worked in the past,” Mr. Lai told me by phone recently. “Trump has succeeded by playing hardball.”

Mr. Lai pointed out, for example, that Mr. Trump had dramatically increased weapons sales to Taiwan, a self-governing island off China’s coast that China claims as its own, a move that could help deter an attack from the mainland. Past U.S. administrations had tiptoed around weapons sales for fear of angering Beijing, arguably weakening Taiwan’s defenses in the process.

Yet these diplomatic issues are secondary to what really interests many Chinese liberal intellectuals: the American culture wars, in which some see a reflection of the debates about the limits of free speech in China. Given how robust public discussion is in the United States, the comparison may seem overdrawn. But it speaks to the intensity with which many Chinese thinkers want Western liberal democracies to remain free.

The issue of political correctness in particular fascinates them, with many seeing in it uncomfortable echoes of their own experiences in a society where speech is severely constrained. They perceive Mr. Trump as embodying the sort of no-filter approach to free speech that they dream of, while viewing American liberalism as having strayed from its core values.

For the full commentary, see:

Ian Johnson. “Why Chinese Liberals Like Trump.” The New York Times (Friday, November 20, 2020): A27.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 18, 2020, and has the title “Why Do Chinese Liberals Embrace American Conservatives?”)

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