The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump thinks China’s leaders are smarter. They didn’t even let their people watch the debate.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton speaks as Republican nominee Donald Trump looks on during the final presidential debate, which was held in Las Vegas. (Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

It was a familiar theme for Donald Trump. China’s leaders are smarter than their American counterparts. China’s economy is growing much faster than the U.S. economy, and it is one of those countries “raiding” American jobs.

China was cast as the foil to expose the weakness of the Obama administration and, by extension, Hillary Clinton.

Ironically, China’s “smart” leaders didn’t let their people watch the debate.

The third U.S. presidential debate was blocked on Chinese media websites.

Some people managed to find a workaround, using unblocked websites such as Yahoo or virtual private network software to get around China’s system of Internet censorship known as the Great Firewall to watch. Some news websites also posted translated transcripts.

But on social media there was a muted reaction, with only a few hundred comments on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, compared with about 10,000 comments during the first debate.

Instructions from Internet censors to block livestreams of the first debate were leaked to the China Digital Times website, but somehow Sina Weibo managed to show the whole program without incident. This time around, no such luck.

China’s leadership presumably isn’t that impressed with Trump’s backhanded compliments.

More to the point: China’s state media might gloat that this presidential race — and in particular the rise of a “racist” demagogue like Trump — shows that democracy is “scary.” But there is clearly something unsettling to China’s leaders about the idea of two presidential candidates facing off on live television, being asked searching questions, and presenting a democratic choice to the citizens of their country.

China paper says rise of ‘racist’ Trump shows democracy is scary

On social media, most people who did watch the debate seemed to find it amusing.

“What a good drama! Americans fight with Americans,” one user commented.

“The most funny talk show in the United States — the presidential election,” another wrote.

Here are key moments from the third and final presidential debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, Oct. 19, in Las Vegas. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post, Photo: Win McNamee/The Washington Post)

During the debate, Trump said China’s economy was growing at 7 percent. Official figures show it growing at 6.7 percent, but many economists say that the real number is much lower. He also argued that U.S. trade negotiators were “political hacks” who were dealing with Chinese officials who were “much smarter than we are.” It was a way to show what he sees as the weakness of the current administration and his strength.

Clinton also used China as a foil, but to expose what she argued was Trump’s hypocrisy, and to highlight her principles.

“One of the biggest problems we have with China is the illegal dumping of steel and aluminum into our market. I’ve fought against it as a senator, stood up against it as the secretary of state,” she said.

“Donald has bought Chinese steel and aluminum. In fact the Trump hotel right here in Las Vegas was built, was made with Chinese steel. So he goes around with crocodile tears about how horrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steelworkers, not American steelworkers.”

Clinton also made reference to a speech she made in China in 1995 as first lady when she declared that “women's rights are human rights,” and to China's one-child policy.

“I’ve been to countries where governments either forced women to have abortions, like they used to do in China, or forced women to bear children, like they used to do in Romania,” she said. “And I can tell you the government has no business in the decisions that women make with their families in accordance with their faith, with medical advice.”

Although the reaction on social media was muted, a poll issued this month by the Pew Research Center — and conducted in April and May of this year — showed Clinton significantly more popular in China than Trump.

It showed that 37 percent of Chinese people held a favorable view of Hillary Clinton, while only 22 percent saw Trump in a positive light. Although Chinese state media have never been fans of Clinton, it could be that her stance on human rights and women's rights has won her some support from ordinary people.

But neither Trump nor Clinton could match President Obama, with 52 percent of respondents in China expressing trust in him. The Pew survey was based on face-to-face interviews with more than 3,100 people between April 6 and May 8, and has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

Jin Xin and Luna Lin contributed to this report.

Trump says China is ‘the best ever’ at devaluing its currency. That’s no longer true.

What Donald Trump talks about when he talks about China