China found itself the focus of unwanted attention during the first presidential debate Monday, with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump accusing Beijing of stealing American jobs and failing to do enough to tackle the rising nuclear threat in North Korea.
During the debate, China was mentioned a dozen times, and most of those mentions came from Trump.
In his opening remarks, Trump blamed China for having manipulated its currency to gain trade competitiveness.
“They’re using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China,” he said, adding, “They’re the best, the best ever at it [currency devaluation].”
He also accused China and other countries of stealing American jobs.
The accusation about stealing jobs is not new, but following the debate in China, there were many online and on the streets who disagreed, even those who feel he is the better candidate.
“China is strong [economically], but that is fleeting, haven’t all the jobs gone to Southeast Asia and India? ” asked Jana, a designer in Beijing who admires Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign style and ability to brand herself.
“Labor used to be cheap in China, but now it is getting more and more expensive,” she added. “Many factories have had to shut down and are shifting their operations elsewhere.”
Lucy, who works in the financial sector, said she thinks Trump is a better choice than Clinton, but disagreed with his take on jobs.
“Every country struggles with the problem of unemployment,” she said. “It is not like the global economy is lopsided and governments do not have the ability to make adjustments because of pressure certain countries put on employment.”
Chinese state media kept reporting on the presidential debate to a minimum and there appeared to be a concerted effort to keep it from making headlines. But that did not stop many from discussing and dissecting the candidates’ performances and remarks.
On China’s Twitter-like site Weibo, the topic was ranked fourth in searches shortly after the debate ended. But many felt the accusations were aimed more at winning over voters and not necessarily a reflection of candidates true intentions.
“It’s a must [for U.S. candidates] to put the blame on China so as to garner support from voters. As a matter of fact, you have no idea how much those in power [in the U.S.] have liked China,” wrote one Weibo user.
Another chirped, “Before taking office, [U.S. candidates often] wage a fight with China. But after taking office, [they’ll] come begging China for help. These have been old tricks, played in past U.S. presidential elections over and over again.”
Chen, a young real estate agent, who could not remember Trump’s name, but said he likes the “aggressive candidate” who has made no secret of his wealth, agreed that the comments were more aimed at boosting popularity.
“At least he has said what he is thinking and that way we can be prepared for a tougher approach to China,” he said. “Hillary has not and so who knows what she is thinking.”
Trump’s comments were not all negative and even as he was criticizing China for manipulating its currency, some took note with pride that he said Beijing is the “best at it.”
The U.S. real-estate tycoon also praised countries, including China, that have incredible airports, which he said the United States should look up to.
Reigning in Pyongyang
But many found his comments about North Korea unrealistic.
During the debate, Trump also said he looks to China to solve the rising nuclear threat in North Korea. “China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea. China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea,” he said.
WATCH: Trump on China, North Korea
Few here felt China has the capability to do that, given the unpredictable nature of the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and the long and complicated history between the neighbors.
“Relations with North Korea are not as simple as some in America think,” said one retiree named Lu, who grew up in China’s northeast near the North Korean border. “There’s no way that China would send in the military or try to launch a coup.”
Lu said he thinks Clinton is the better candidate because Trump lacks experience in governance and as he put it is “unreliable.”
Chen, the real estate agent who likes Trump, said China would never go into North Korea.
“It’s not a question of whether one is capable of doing that,” he said. "There are many countries in the world, strong countries like the United States that are capable of doing that ... but right now everyone is doing everything they can to maintain world peace.”