Why Donald Trump is popular with a lot of people in India and China

Hindu Sena activists organize a hawan and chant mantras invoking the Hindu Gods to help Republican candidate Donald Trump to win the US presidential election at Jantar Mantar on May 11, 2016 in New Delhi, India.
Arvind Yadav | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

Donald Trump may not be too kind toward foreigners or immigrants when he's on the campaign trail, but there are still groups of Chinese and Indians — both in the United States and in Asia — who support the Republican presidential candidate.

Make no mistake: The vast majority of Asian-Americans favor Hillary Clinton. According to the National Asian American Survey for Fall 2016, Clinton enjoys an almost 4-to-1 advantage over Trump — 55 percent vs. 14 percent — with about 1 in 5 still undecided.

Indian Americans tend to lean left, fitting the larger trend among Americans of Asian descent. But a growing number of Hindu Indians support Trump because of his anti-Muslim rhetoric — and Trump has capitalized on this.

In a speech in New Jersey, Trump pledged that he would support Indians and crack down against Muslim extremism. Those strong words from Trump resonated with many Indians, who have seen their country repeatedly struck by terrorism, the most significant example being the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 which killed more than 200 people.

A vocal, right-wing political group, Hindu Sena, called Trump a "hero," due in part to his ability to "save humanity from Islam and Islamic terror."

Trump's commentary also comes at a time when tensions have been elevated between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir.

"Most U.S. leaders in the past have had a pro-Pakistan tilt … so Trump's pro-India comments have been cheered by the [Indian] community," said Professor Ravi Ahuja at DeSales University in Pennsylvania.

Aside from his aggressive words on terrorism, Trump's brand also has equity in India.

"India probably has the highest number of Trump-branded real estate projects outside of North America," said a spokesperson for Tribeca, a Mumbai-based developer that acts as Trump's partner in India. "Trump has five ongoing deals in India with a gross development value of about $1.5 billion" with "more projects likely to be launched in 2017."

Trump contributes $30K to campaign, making little progress

But whether any of that sentiment translates into more U.S. votes on Nov. 8 is, of course, the key question. In the United States political strategists say Indian Americans are slowly taking a more prominent role in corporate America — specifically in the technology and financial services industries.

"We're only 1 percent of the population, but South Asians tend to be highly influential and wealthy," said M.R. Rangaswami, Silicon Valley investor and founder of Indiaspora.

Indian Americans are among the most highly educated U.S. ethnic groups, with 70 percent of Indian Americans aged 25 and older holding a college degrees in 2010, which is 2.5 times the rate among the overall U.S. population, according to data from the Pew Research Center. The median annual household income for Indian Americans in 2010 was $88,000, much higher than the U.S. average.

Trump realized the importance of the group and therefore has put in concerted effort to win their votes. This week, Trump made a video that trended on social media where he recited a statement in Hindi, India's national language, ahead of Diwali, the Indian New Year which is celebrated on November 4.

Is Trump good for China?

Trump's rhetoric toward India stand in contrast to what he's said about China, which he criticizes for stealing American jobs, using corrupt trading practices and manipulating its currency.

Trump's unforgiving rhetoric is being watched closely by leaders and citizens of China. Steve Orlins, president of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and a former managing director at asset management firm Carlyle Asia, said Chinese express worry that Trump's policies, if implemented, would send the world economy into a downward spiral.

"I don't have a sense that many Chinese support Trump. The ones I speak with are deeply offended by his rhetoric and believe he creates his own reality," said Orlins, who just returned from a trip to China.

That said, a few individuals on the ground in Beijing confess that Trump does have some fans there.

In a country run by a communist one-party system, where individual expression is discouraged, and where debates are not even allowed, some Chinese find Trump's bold comments liberating — or at the very least, entertaining.

"Trump is in many ways the diametric opposite of a typical Chinese bureaucrat: brash, confrontational and unapologetically egocentric, whose main rhetorical line is that through him, you (the voter) will retrieve your lost pride in your country," said Gilliam Hamilton, head of NSBO China Policy Research in Beijing.

"My [personal] take is that people don't take his rhetoric on its own, and instead think of his harsh rhetoric as language on the stump and anticipate him to follow in the footsteps of previous U.S. presidents by becoming more pragmatic" should he take office, said Shan Huang, managing editor at Caixin, a Chinese media group.

What also seems to resonate with many in China is the perception that Trump has an entrepreneurial spirit. Huang said Trump's business instinct makes some people believe that he is a deal-maker, and his business acumen may help the United States break the cycle of on-again, off-again bilateral relations with China.

Trump also espouses policies that would be geopolitically advantageous to China.

His stated intention to tear up the Trans Pacific Partnership — a multi-nation trade deal proposed by Washington which pointedly excludes China — supports China's longer-term goal of diminishing the United States' place in the region.

"Undermining the alliance that the U.S. has with its Asian allies is China's overriding, long-term geopolitical objective," said Jennifer Harris, U.S. foreign policy expert and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Trump has also sharply criticized U.S. security arrangements with its European and Asian allies, and it would be in China's favor if those links between the United States and the rest of the world were weakened.

In various speeches and interviews in July, Trump suggested that Japan, South Korea and the Philippines are taking advantage of the United States and the security Washington provides.

Experts point out that China yearns to be the dominant force and leader in Asia and cannot accomplish that goal with the U.S. regularly intervening in economic and geopolitics affairs in Asia.