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How a Trump or Clinton presidency could hurt China's economy

Whether Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or her Republican rival, Donald Trump, wins the U.S. election next month, the next inhabitant of the White House's approach to China is likely to take a more "hawkish view" towards the world's second largest economy, analysts believe.

"Relative to Barack Obama, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have a more hawkish view on a wide range of China issues," analysts Kevin Lai and Olivia Xia from Daiwa Capital Markets said in a note Thursday.

"Clinton is considered a China hawk, especially on a range of issues outside of trade," the analysts noted. "On U.S.-China trade, she is also more confrontational than Obama but comparatively more moderate than Trump."

With just over a month to go till American voters go to the polls, the race to the White House is too close to call.

Trump has a large and loyal following and his populist views have chimed among disaffected U.S. voters but he is seen as a renegade. Clinton, meanwhile, has suffered from a lack of personal popularity although she is seen as far more experienced and as having "sounder" government policies.

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping leave a joint news conference in the Rose Garden at The White House on September 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Daiwa's analysts said that either way, the U.S. government's attitude towards China was going to change.

"The U.S. government under Obama and Bush has tried to make things work with China… (but) we believe debate over currency manipulation, loss of American jobs, intellectual property rights theft and an uneven playing field will continue to attract intense discussion inside and outside Washington. Whoever wins the election will come under greater pressure to address these issues more convincingly."

Trump vs. Clinton: How China views the US elections

China to suffer

But Daiwa's analysts said that whoever becomes president, the U.S.' attitude towards superpower China - arguably its biggest economic and political rival – is likely to change, especially if import tariffs are raised. They warned that this could be to China's economic detriment, potentially causing a decline in the country's gross domestic product of up to 1.75 percent.

"Even if Clinton wins, we do not think it will be just another status-quo extension (of the current trade policy towards China). From a scale of 1 to 10, Obama being 1 and Trump 10, we would rate Clinton, and her views on U.S.-China trade policy as a 4."

Trump has pledged to impose a 45 percent tariff on imports from China if he wins the election, a move that Daiwa said would be "profound," although the analysts noted that even Clinton was likely to be tough when it comes to trade issues with China.

"The impact of a 45 percent tariff, as suggested by Trump, would be profound. China would likely retaliate by levying similar tariffs on the U.S. But U.S. exports to China are about a quarter of the size of China's exports to the U.S., while the U.S. economy is almost twice as large as China's. The damage on the U.S. would be far less," they noted, adding that Clinton was unlikely to pursue such a policy.

"We cannot rule out the possibility of similar countervailing measures under a Clinton presidency. But a 30-45 percent tariff is highly unlikely and a watered-down version would be more realistic, in our view, if Clinton toughens her stance on China."

Daiwa noted that even if import tariffs were raised to 15 percent from the current rate of 4.2 percent, the impact on China's economy "would be significant."

"We expect exports from China to the U.S. to decline by 31 percent (and) China's gross domestic product (GDP) could see an initial 0.95 percent decline and a 1.75 percent loss over time," Lai and Xia noted.

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